BALANCE SHEET BLOG – HOLLYWOOD, FL


Pension Referendum – Sept. 13
September 5, 2011, 9:24 PM
Filed under: Budget, City Staff, Elections, Taxes

HOLLYWOOD SPECIAL ELECTION – IMPORTANT – SAVE JOBS!

WHAT:  Pension Referendum
WHEN: Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011

This is no time for voter apathy.  Our city has a budget crisis that could lead to bankruptcy. As a partial solution, the referendum proposes reducing future pension benefits for members of each of the three unions in city government:  General Employees, Police, and Firefighters. These reductions would save the City some $8.5 million and set the City on a more sustainable course for the future.

Note: the referendum would not touch any pension benefits employees have earned to date; only future benefits would be subject to new rules if the referendum passes.

We are voting YES on all three referendum questions.  We believe a YES vote will save jobs, maybe hundreds of them in the long run.  It will also prevent astronomical tax and fee increases in the years to come for both residents and businesses. 

Think about it.  The City is strapped for money. The unions have cited as cause of this budget failure a number of wasteful, unwise expenditures the City Commission has made — and we agree with most of these (WiFi, water tower decor, mega developer incentives, excessive severance package for former city manager, etc.).  We’ve spoken out against WiFi and excessive developer incentives for years, not just after the fact but before these spending decisions were even made.

More unwise expenditures the unions don’t mention are the excessive pension concessions to the unions themselves.  We’ve spoken out against these, too, for years.  They’ve been a major contributor to the City’s financial meltdown. Hollywood’s pension costs have skyrocketed about $30 million in just eight years  Look at the trend line:

This situation cannot continue without huge tax and fee increases in years to come.  And who are we asking to pay these taxes and fees?  New census data show that almost half of Hollywood households are designated “low-income,” and foreclosure rates here are three times more than nationally.

If the referendum is defeated and savings can’t be achieved from reducing pension costs, the City says it will have to cut salaries and lay off workers to achieve the necessary savings for the coming fiscal year.    Salaries were already cut significantly earlier this year so this would be a double whammy.  Reducing future retirement benefits seems the better course to us but if the unions don’t agree, voter approval is required and that’s why we have the upcoming referendum. This referendum gives voters a direct voice in how the City will handle the current budget disaster:  (1) pension reform, or (2) no pension reform and more salary cuts, employee layoffs, and service cutbacks instead, not only now but in future years also.

Infuriating and disheartening as reducing retirement benefits can be, we still think the unions would be wise to reach a negotiated settlement with the City rather than pinning their hopes on defeating the referendum.  The unions may well succeed at sinking the referendum. Then what? Wouldn’t the subsequent shift to salary cuts and pink slips be worse for the rank and file than a less costly retirement plan?

We believe defeating pension reform will cause much more hardship on the employees than approving it, especially those at the lower end of the pay scale who need every dollar of their salary to make ends meet today.  The City has provided each union leader the amount of savings that would have to come from pay cuts and/or lay-offs should the referendum fail. We have copies of this information.  If you’d like to see it, let us know and we’ll send it to you.

To see the exact ballot language and more information about what is being proposed, visit the city’s website at this link.

If you wish to vote by absentee ballot and have not yet requested the ballot for this election, you must contact the Supervisor of Elections Office immediately.  The absentee ballot request form may be filled out online from the SOE website at this link.  Or request it by phone 954-357-7055.

Be sure to vote.  This is no time for voter apathy in Hollywood.


28 Comments

I now have read the many thoughtful comments preceding my post and all who responded feel very much, as if, they have been placed in harms way, at least, in relation to their futures. Their personal futures and the future of Hollywood. One of the posts that affected me, to write, was the jobs that are being discussed attract people who wish to serve the public or perhaps just a wish to serve humanity. I believe it to be a conflict of belief and ideas to say the wish to serve humanity and fighting for personal monies are somewhat a contradiction. I and my many colleagues work to serve the public in life and death situations every day and lo and behold non of us have pensions. We too work in dangerous environments. The only possible pension that we may receive is what we have generated ourselves and the hope of Social Security. It would be great to know that at least there is a little something down at the end of the road but to feel entitled because one does for others is not the characteristic of one who went into a particular profession to serve. My concern is, knowing human behavior, is that if those concerned lose part of their pensions are they then going to be come disgruntled and punish the citizens of Hollywood who have all along been funding these pensions. If so, maybe they should move on and maybe others should be hired in their place. In today’s terrible economy there are many worthwhile people seriously looking for work. I guess I am just grateful at this point that I have a job.

Comment by A citizen of Hollywood for many years.

Beam, at the Sep 7th commission meeting you compare your FRS pension with ours and said your multiplier is 1.6% while ours will be 2.0 % , true, BUT you failed to mention one MAJOR point, us city employees contribute 9% of our pay into our pension yet you just started paying only 3% into yours. Funny how you left that out. Please Sara, post this blog.

Comment by Peter Moore

It’s amazing that people DO believe that the city’s ONLY way to close a budget gap is on the backs of the Employees. WAKE UP PEOPLE! They just approved a 300k Park to be build next to Commissioner BEAM FURR’s house! How do I get a park next to my house? Oh wait…there was a 75k grant so that means in Hollywood Math the IT’S FREE!

Comment by Concerned Citizen

Sara, I’m dissapointed that your comments here seem to have been posted AFTER the Hillcrest meeting Monday night. I say this because you were in attendance at this meeting. I don’t recall you leaving at any point and you were seated in what was technically the front row.

I was a member of the panel that night. I was there to address any and all questions and concerns that were aimed towards your firefighters. As I stated that night, I am a Trustee on the Hollywood Firefighters Pension Board. I have worked for this city for nearly 23 years and been a resident for over 12. I am also a member of the Firefighters negotiating team. So, I have a vested interest in the pension that we are debating in many different ways. As I said on Monday night, my goal and the firefighters that I was representing that night, is to have a pension that I have no need to defend. One that is fair and comparable to others who do a similar job. One that does not impact its residents in a negative way. And one that is sound and will provide for me and my family after I am no longer able to perform this demanding job any more.

In addition to addressing any concerns in a fully transparent way, my other objective Monday night, was to inform those in attendance that there are many facts that are not being provided to the citizens regarding our pensionsI One thing in particular that is being omitted from all discussion during the city “town hall meetings” is the fact that a HUGE portion of the pensions costs are “legacy costs”. These are costs associated with retirees. These will not be addressed by this referendum vote. They cannot be touched. These legacy costs are being blamed on the current workforce for benefits that they WILL NOT EVEN RECIEVE! I made very clear (at least I thought I did) that we are attempting to negotiate with the city in order to help this city through these trying times. We have ALWAYS given back when the city has asked us to do so and we are prepared to do so now. We fully understand that some benefits that were awarded to retirees in the past were a sign of the times and the environment we are currently in requires a modification to the terms related to some of our benefits. We are not only prepared to do this……….We HAVE offered a proposal to do so! We have proposed to modify our DROP terms from a guaranteed return (the most impactful LEGACY cost) that so many people misrepresent on these blogs…….to terms that would actually BENEFIT the city significantly. We have not only proposed to COMPLETELY ELIMINATE any guaranteed return relating to the DROP benefit, but we have even offered the first 2% return on our cumulative investments, to be put directly back into the plan to increase its funding ratios and GREATLY REDUCE the citys contribution towards funding our pensions now and in the future. NO STRINGS ATTACHED! This shows a simply enormous commitment to our own pensions! We have offered to increase our employee contributions significantly as well. This would also reduce the citys contribution requirements. These two items alone are huuuge savings to the city. Our proposal to help this city also included at least 10 other benefits or conditions that were conceded or reduced totaling millions of dollars (recurring annually, not just this year) in givebacks to help our city and its residents. Remember, I, and many more of us, are actually residents and have a vested interest in wanting this city to flourish. The citys response to our offer……………..?
A letter telling us that it wasnt good enough. No counterproposal! Nothing!

I would hope that you at least took from this meeting what the citys “reform” will provide its workers in the future if this passes. They will have the SAME or slightly better than the following 10 munipalities in the entire state of Florida: Umatilla
Lake Alfred
Crescent City (has 1 firefighter on duty M-F 9a-5p)
LaBelle
Chatahoochee
Dunnellon
Ponce Inlet
Eatonville (had 26 calls in 2006)
MacClenny
Quincy.
These ten have a combined population of approximately 38,000!!! Out of 300 pension plans that are not in the state pension system! Those 10 would have equivalent benefits! That’s it! No city in South Florida would be anywhere close to as low! This is NOT REFORM that is being proposed! This should have been referred to on the ballets as pension GUTTING…..not pension reform! Please keep this in mind before you campaign for a YES vote. As I’ve cited above, we are willing to concede a great deal if we were to be given time to negotiate.

Seconds after the Monday night meeting ended, something even more shocking to me happened. As you know, I was seated next to Beam Furr on the panel. As I was placing things back in my briefcase, Beam Furr turned to me and expressed his SHOCK at our DROP proposal. He asked something to the effect…Why would you put 2% back into your pension when you could just take your benefit and leave without giving ANY of it back? I told him what I am telling you. We have a vested interest in the health of our own plan and wish to compensate for these LEGACY costs in order to make it more sound. He seemed pleasantly shocked by the fact that we would actually make an offer like this!!!!! He must have been even more shocked that this offer was made TWO WEEKS ago and he knew nothing of it!! Linda Sherwood, who was sitting next to Beam, immediately implied that she, too, was impressed with the proposal. And she, too, seemed surprised! It was as if they were not even aware of this offer!?!? So, the commission is taking a position for “reform” when they haven’t even been informed of our offers? I was told by the CITY’s hired actuary that our DROP proposal would be the most generous in the entire state of Florida! Finally, something that would make the city a trendsetter (in a positive way) and at least two commissioners were not even aware that it was offered!?!? Why is this?

Please reconsider your stance on this. Your firefighters are really trying to fix this. As Ive said a few times already. We have a vested interest.

Comment by William

“…More unwise expenditures the unions don’t mention are the excessive pension concessions to the unions themselves. ”

That may, or may not, be the case. It still begs the question of who signed the contracts allowing the CIty to get into the position it is in.

Are the Unions to blame for asking for too much, or are the Commissioners to blame for giving it?

And since the Union contracts are typically done three years at a time, wouldn’t the last or next contract renegotiation date be the time to make the change? Why are we doing it in the middle of the process at a great cost of time, effort, and dollars?

Comment by Resident AND Employee

The last point that was made by Brian J is a very significant one. These are benefits that are promised to employees at the end of their careers that they fail to mention when discussing their “reform”. The vote would completely eliminate these benefits! Not reform them! Understand, that in my 22 years and 10 month career to date, I have been promised since nearly day 1 a COLA of 2% that would begin a few years after my retirement. In fact, this benefit was funded years ago by accumulated state monies ($1.5 million this year) that are given to our city every year to be used “exclusively” for funding our pension benefits. So, they used this money all these years with the guise of providing me a benefit with it and they are allowed to now not honor it at the eleventh hour???? That is EXACTLY what is going on here and noone is being informed of this. I find it hard to believe that this is legal in the first place and with our citys track record with law suits, Im guessing it might not be. But, even if it is, it surely seems wrong in many ways. The city refers to the multiplier benefit ONLY when telling people that the workers are not “losing any earned benefits” if this referendum passes!

Comment by William

Also, please do YOUR homework as well. You say nothing already earned will be touched, but this is only a technical truth; at the same time it is really a lie. Only the very basic components of the plan are earned incrementally throughout the term of employment. To encourage employees to stay until the end, there are components that ONLY engage at the officer’s end retirement date, such as their COLA. So even though an officer is just one month from retiring, and has put all his years of service in under the promise, financial planning and assumption of that COLA at the end, under the new plan he loses that COLA completely on ALL his years of service, because by technical definition, he hadn’t “earned” it yet.
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In this world, there are truths, and then there are lawyer-truths. Your comment that nothing already earned will be touched is a lawyer-truth that the city is propagandizing. I call it a lie.

Comment by Brian Joynt

Ms. Case, I have done my homework and I’m not trying to mislead anyone. My post addressed what they want and what the referendum will do, two different things.
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I will clarify the first sentence of my previous post as I could see where you got the idea I was trying to mislead. Several of our elected officials have publicly stated that they would like to eliminate pensions and replace them with 401k type plans (457’s are the city version). Patty Asseff recently told a reporter that her employees have 401k’s and it’s good enough for them, so why isn’t it good enough for the police officers. Unfortunately, I do not have Patty’s exact quote, but it was along that sentiment and I’m sure it can be found online. So I stand by my comment that they want to eliminate the pensions.
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That being said, I know the referendum is not a vote to eliminate the pensions; it is a vote to drastically reduce them. And the new plan will, as I stated in the previous post, be the worst pension plan of any police agency anywhere in South Florida, if it were to pass.
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The rest of my post still stands true as well. You get what you pay for, and when you provide the very bottom of compensation packages, you will get the very bottom of applicants. So be careful what you wish for.

Comment by Brian Joynt

Thank you for clearing up that you were referring to the other Brian’s post and not mine. I appreciate the effort.

Comment by Brian Wilkie

Change the retirement age? When you call 911, would you prefer a younger, healthier officer or paramedic/fire fighter responding to save you, or someone older and just so beat from the stress and aggravation that comes with the territory? This isn’t sitting behind a desk type of job people. Changing the retirement age is job specific! And this goes for general employees too. There are Public Safety jobs within the general employee category that are going unnoticed. Some that you just shouldn’t have an older person doing. It is not safe for them nor you the resident.

Don’t mistake my comments as putting down older people. There are some very strong and in shape employees who are a bit older and some are in better shape than the youngins. But let’s be real here.

Public Servants chose to go into public service for a reason! The reasons might vary. But a point to be heard is better benefits for lower pay. That’s the equilibrium.

Commissioner Sherwood wants to point out high paid employees on her list. Many of them are not covered under the contracts of the three unions (Police, Fire, General). They are at will employees, management employees. And some of those non management employees who might be getting paid a higher annual rate – well, that might be because of a few reasons. Specialized Units such as Homicide Detectives (should they just go home because it’s getting late and stop working the active case? No, the first 48 hours are critical, and it doesn’t stop there). VICE Detectives, somewhat of a similar idea. Long surveillance, following leads into multi jurisdictions. Firefighters and Paramedics who are FORCED to work overtime because the City refuses to fill the positions. That makes sense. Let higher paid employees work at time and a half, instead of hiring new employees at a lower rate of pay and lower benefit structure. Oh, and I guess that might apply to the dispatchers too. Forced overtime. For a while, that applied to the CSI people as well. They were drastically short staffed too. But instead, crimes were not handled, or not handled properly because of the fear of overtime. Water Treatment Plant – well they had forced overtime too. Another 24 hour operating facility that requires manpower to keep the water we drink clean. More bad decisions on the City.

The moral to the story – MISMANAGEMENT!

Comment by Resident employee who is tired of lies

If the City is so strapped for money, why and how are they finding over $2 million to fund this referendum? Ms. Case, you were at the Hillcrest meeting last night and heard the Acting City Manager admit this herself. She corrected someone when the question was asked if it was true it was costing $2.5 million in outside legal fees. She said, that is incorrect. It is closer to $1.5 to $2 million. I find that pretty darn close.But it also cost another $400,000 to pay the Broward County Supervisor of elections. Another $10,000 for mailers and postage. I just don’t understand. And, the Acting City Manager boldly told the unions the week of the deadline to pull out of the referendum at no cost, that “we are referendum ready.” They had no intention on negotiating.

Might the pensions contribute to the financial issues of the City? Sure. BUT, the Union have been for years making concessions, and they are STILL trying to make concessions. Ones that will save more than what the City claims. They will not accept them. One must wonder why?

Why is it fair that Cameron Benson gets to resign under suspicion (and face it, we know it was suspicious), but his contract was followed through on (over $300,000) and Cynthia Forrester resigned in June and is getting paid through the end of September, and it is ok to break the contracts of the employees who still work and serve this community? It is not fair. The City is not fair. They can’t prove the numbers. They just double talk and make it look and sound good.

This referendum will not save $8.5 million this year. You are a fool to believe so. We have enough professional residents in this City. Let’s ask a private CPA what he/she thinks? They know it can’t happen if they know anything about pensions.

Vote NO, NO, NO. Let the negotiating continue. Let’s do this right! FAIR!

Comment by Employee and Resident

Brian Joynt,
Thank you for your comment. But let’s be clear. Nobody is talking about eliminating any pensions. Either you haven’t done your homework or you’re misleading people. Hollywood public safety officials deserve a good pension. What is being proposed is trimming the extra generous pensions the city has provided and can no longer afford. Nothing that you’ve earned to date will be touched. The referendum would apply new rules only to your future pension benefits which would most definitely not be eliminated.

Comment by Balance Sheet Blog

The city (and some of you) want to eliminate police pensions…
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The only thing I can say is, be careful what you wish for because you may get it. With the recent pay cuts to the Hollywood Police Officers, they are now the lowest paid officers in Broward County. If this referendum passes, they will have the worst police pension plan south of Orlando.
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When pay and compensation for Police Officers are reduced to such extreme levels, the quality of applicants is affected as well. A well paying, well compensated job is important enough to stay loyal and faithful to. When the officers are paid and compensated like security guards, expect security guards.
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We’ve seen this before: New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina…
60% of their entire police force no-showed the following day. 17 officers were charged with crimes out of the aftermath. 5 officers were recently convicted on charges originating from Katrina incidents. Numerous officers were investigated in illegal and unwarranted shootings in the aftermath. CNN followed two of their Police Officers through a store while the officers were pushing a shopping cart looting along with the looters. There are many other examples from that area and those trying times, but I won’t get into them all. What’s the point of New Orleans? Their officers are extremely low paid and low compensated, therefore their job was either less important to them than showing up to work the following day or less important than doing their job properly if they did show up.
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Hollywood, Hurricane Wilma…
Not one officer called in sick.
Not one officer was accused of wrong-doing or illegal activities during the aftermath.
A burglar was even captured breaking into a South Lake home during the height of the storm and during hurricane force winds, when any other department wouldn’t have responded until the wind died down.
Most of the Officers were forced into 12 hour shifts, 6-7 days a week, having to ignore their own families’ well-being, and they did so tirelessly.
There were Officers bringing water and ice to handicapped residents that couldn’t leave their homes.
And there are many more stories of the selfless dedication of your Hollywood Police Officers to the citizens they serve during and after Wilma.
But look and Katrina and compare…
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You won’t see the extremely destructive consequenses of this referendum passing right away, it will take time. Officers, new and old, will leave en masse; why would they stay when getting hired ANYWHERE else will mean better pay and benefits. And the one’s that replace them and begin working in Hollywood will be New Orleans/Katrina style officers, bottom of the barrel, here ONLY because no one else would have them. And when the next storm comes through, and there’s no one coming when you call 911 because 60% of the officers didn’t show up to work, remember my post, because YOU wanted it that way.

Comment by Brian Joynt

Everyone is focusing on the 8.5 million the City proposes will be the beginning of the cure for all their financial wows. How convienant to blame their shortfalls on the employees pensions and not to address their unwarranted spending spree, loan forgiveness, free property give aways and mismanagement which over the years has contributed to this deficit. This didn’t happen over night who is running this city anyway ?

Comment by Employee/Spouse

Invest the entire pension fund in Apple, they averaged a return of 44% this last year.

Comment by Steve

A true clarification of this point would be that the 6% is available for most current employees, but new employees with a hire date off approx 2 years ago would get 4%. This percentage was available for employees when they reach the DROP, but since the city intends to end the DROP program it’s also irrelevant. You’re correct, it would be nearly impossible to find those returns anywhere now, which is why the fire union offered to NOT ONLY eradicate ANY guaranteed return, but also proposed to turn the first 2% of interest earnings over to the city to help close the unfunded liability and stabilize the pension. However the city turned down this offer. Now, I’m not an investment expert or economist, but I have done some reading about public sector pensions. I’ve learned that the interest earned by the fund reduces the pension’s cost to the city. I’ve also learned that the more money in the fund drastically increases the interest earrings (ex: 4% of $1 million is less than 4% of $10 million… And this interest coompounds). Therefore, since removing the DROP program will reduce the fund’s principle, this measure will remove one of the programs greatest assets/benefits. Like I said, I’m not an expert, but it seems like a questionable decision to me considering the fire union was willing make the DROP cost neutral for the city.

Comment by Brian Wilkie

Beam, I applaud you for addressing the readers of this blog. However, I do not agree with your characterization of the BalanceSheet’s analysis. Their portrayal was anything but objective. I also want to directly address a few points you made.
First, you suggest that the retirees should have had the foresight to save for a rainy day. I ask why this commission didn’t choose to follow your advice as well? How many years did the Fire union sign over the Ch 175 funds to the city? Those funds were supposed to be used to offset the pension costs. Were they used in this manner? How many times did the union implore the city to establish a pension stabilization fund which would have saved excess funds during the prosperous years for the inevitable lean years we are in now? A pension stabilization fund would have offset the costs the city is struggling to manage today. The city never established this fund. As a result, the commission is asking the residents and employees to give up their scarce and hard earned money to close the gap.
Second, you bring up the guaranteed 8%. This isn’t even an issue which will be fixed by the proposed pension reform! Current Fire employees gave up the 8% in the contract we signed in 2009!! We don’t have a guaranteed 8% anymore!! No, current CANNOT retire and place their money in a fund to earn a guaranteed 8% until they are 71. You are misleading the readers by making this statement. Be genuine in your discussion with regards to this referendum vote, a LOT is riding on it!
Third, the pension you propose for fire does NOT provide 75% of their highest year’s salary. It is the average of the highest 60 months over the employee’s last 10 years of employment.
Fourth, the notion that a failed referendum will require the city to lay off employees and increase taxes by 27% in flawed. The city claims to be negotiating with the unions in the hopes that an agreement can be reached. Well, why do these negotiations have to stop after Sept 13th? I know the unions are willing to continue working towards an agreement. Is the city? If you lose the vote will you take your ball and go home? No, the only alternative isn’t to raise taxes 27%! there is another alternative.. the city comes to the table and puts forth a genuine and sincere effort to work with the employees on resolving this issue. I am quite confident that the fire employees would be interested in meeting for further negotiations. Hopefully the city has the intention of actually making them productive this time around.
As for the proposals offered by the unions, the commission should take a serious look at them. They are worthy of consideration. It’s a shame that the proposals have gone unnoticed.

Comment by Brian Wilkie

Just to clarify this point, for the newest retirees, the city’s guaranteed return is 6%. And the 8% still applies to all the pre-mid-2009 retirees. Isn’t that right Brian? I wonder where else you could get that kind of return today, 6% or 8%?

Comment by Balance Sheet Blog

The article headline states- “Save jobs” There will be a mass exodus if the referendum passes. MASS. Yes, you will be able to hire people to fill these police officer jobs, desperate ones. Are they the ones you want wandering through YOUR house when you accidentally leave the door open??Are they the one you want treating YOU when you have a heart attack? Are they the ones you want investigating your case when you get robbed? Guess so.

Comment by Stephanie Szeto

First, I would like to say I appreciate the analysis done by the BalanceSheet on this important issue. I believe their portrayal to be accurate and objective.

Secondly, I appreciate what our public safety and general employees do for this city. We are proud of the achievements and rare distinction of our Class 1 Police and Fire Departments. This is not a referendum on the value or the quality of their service. It is about our city staying solvent, avoiding bankruptcy and finding its future. This referendum is not about trying to get rid of our own police and fire and bringing in BSO. Nor is it attempt to bust unions or privatize services.

On the contrary, this is the way we can afford to keep the employees we now have. This referendum promises a pension for our police and fire officers up to 75% of their highest year’s salary and raises the retirement age to 55. For general employees it provides for 60% of their final salary and raises the retirement age from 55 to 62. What it puts an end to, however, is the plundering of the pension fund itself by its own members.

Currently, police and fire can retire after 25 years of service (many in their mid 40s) , take their DROP account of hundreds of thousands of dollars (two firemen this year retired with over $1 million dollars each from their DROP accounts) and put it back into the pension fund to earn 8% a year until they reach the age of 71 … while simultaneously receiving a monthly pension. That practice has been a huge drain on the pension funds.

It is particularly damaging when the funds themselves have only averaged 2% returns over the last 10 years when they are expected to earn 8% to finance the fund. Last year, the police retirees got a 13th check, a bonus, because the stock market exceeded their 8% assumption rate. It didn’t matter that it had barely broken even for the years prior. It didn’t matter that common sense should have told them to save for the rainy days and decades. The Retirees split millions of dollars amongst themselves with no thought to the fact that their fund was already belly up.
Each pension fund has accumulated debts and unfunded liabilities (money not in the bank) over $150,000,000 (cumulative debt of over $450,000,000 for all three). Taxpayers, you and me, have to pay that “assumed” rate of 8% – on that $450,000,000 because it is nowhere to be found in the stock market earning money. As taxpayers, we “co-signed” for this, and have to pony up because the market didn’t. Last year, we had to fork over $25 million dollars in interest alone because our pensions are so far under water. Our total bill for pensions was over $44 million dollars. It has increased 320% in eight years! That is out of a general fund of around $170,000,000. One out of every four dollars goes to service the pensions. That is money that should be going into the neighborhoods, sidewalks, lights, parks, streets, more policeman, etc…
Blame whomever you want on that debt, but that is the reality we face. You can vote against it, but the alternative this year would have been to raise your taxes 27%. And next year we would have to raise it again. And again. I asked our actuary what return on investments would the pension funds have to receive so that taxpayers won’t have to dig back into their pockets and contribute even more to keep them afloat. Our actuary says it would require an 11% return every year for the next 30 years to keep that from happening.
Vote no on this referendum and you force the hand of the city commission to raise taxes, reduce and privatize services. Vote Yes and we get to keep our services and quality of life and regain a solid financial foothold. See you at the polls.
If you want to see the numbers for yourself, go to http://www.hollywoodfl.org/budget/actreports.htm
Beam Furr
City Commissioner
District 2

Comment by Beam Furr

J Stern makes a valid point. A guaranteed 8% is no longer justifiable, which is why we removed that from the contract in 2009. But, there was a time when the city PREFERRED that the employees opt for the 8% versus the variable rate of return. Opting for the fixed 8% gave the city a huge windfall of profits from massive interest gains on the fund’s principle. Any returns above 8% went to the city to allow them to significantly reduce their required contribution to the pensions. It was a great deal for the city during prosperous economic environments. Recently, those same conditions aren’t as common. That’s why the 8% is no longer offered. So, J Stern is voting yes to reform pension language that’s two years old. Well, at least this individual is deciding to vote, albeit not as a very informed voter. I applaud his/her efforts though.

Comment by Brian Wilkie

How can anyone justify a guaranteed 8% return on retirement funds, including accrued vacation, sick leave and OT in retirement calculations and the ability to retire as early as age 45 as a fair entitlement? Affected people should be grateful for riding this gravy train for so long and not resent the proposed changes. I’ll easily vote YES!

A concerned taxpayer and resident. September 6, 2011.

Comment by J Stern

“…Be sure to vote. This is no time for voter apathy in Hollywood.”

This is about the only line in your article I agree with.

The rest of your article is so much regurgitation of the information the City is promoting, most of which is half-truths at best.

The Unions want to help. The Unions offered the numbers required to balance the budget and then offered more because things are going to be ‘down’ for the City for a couple more years.

The Commissioners Response? A resounding No, we’re not interested in what you have to say we’re letting the voters decide.

Don’t reward the Commissions mismanagement of your money.

They are allowing you, the residents, to decide what they should do, are being charged over $400k for the privilege of doing so, and they City is spending another $100k in postage and printing costs to tell you how they want you to vote.

I thought the City was trying to close a budget gap? How is spending a half-million dollars or more going to solve the problem?

Comment by Resident AND Employee

I voted my absentee ballot NO on all three proposals. Why have a referendum at all? There was never any referendums when our commissioners gave away millions of our dollars to finance schemes that were total failures? They simply voted and did what they did. And now look at the results. I think a more logical course of action would be for the entire commission to resign and a new election be held to replace them. Frankly, I have little confidence in whatever the commissioners do. I also do not believe in an imposed settlement. A more satisfactory settlement could be achieved through good faith negotiations, but not with this commission. We sorely need new people on the commission, not the same ones who contributed to the problem.

Comment by Paul Klein

Based on whom? I don’t blame you for not believing the city… but I was present in the ‘negotiations’ and I helped come up with some of the proposals we offered. The offer was legit. You may want pensions to be completely gone ( and you’re entitled to your opinion), but the fact is even current employees have earned and paid for their pension benefits. You can’t LEGALLY take a way a contracted pension benefit once the benefit has been accrued. Although I’m not 100% clear what you mean by ‘moving forward should be zero’, I’m assuming you mean current employees. So, if that’s what you mean, your wishes will not be granted, It’s illegal.
As for your suggestion that pensions be eliminated and individuals become responsible for their own retirements… do you know who this benefits? Investment firms. Pooling resources cuts management costs and increases earning potential. This is why pensions are so effective. They pay a huge portion of their costs with the interest they earn.
Your idea for voting has me chuckling… giving people more voting power based on how much they pay in taxes would be inequitable. The wealthy people would invariably vote for policies which ultimately benefitted them and placed an unfair burden on or reduced the rights of people in the middle or lower class. That idea strays from the ‘all men are created equal’ sentiment I believe. Nice try though.

Comment by Brian Wilkie

I’m going to present a counterpoint: I am going to vote YES only because it’s the best option on the table. I do not want a mere reduction in pensions, I want them ENDED. No more. What’s in place is grandfathered (it’s not fair to take from the pockets of that which is earned under the policy in place), however, moving forward should be zero. I believe it is fair that salaries be increased and each employee is then responsible for investing for his/her future. Take it out of the hands of the city.

Regarding Brian’s post above, I chuckle at “accomplished the necessary savings required by the city”. Really? According to whom? Do you really expect me to put my faith in the city’s numbers? The same city that put us in this situation? The same city that put that phenomenal wi-fi system in place? The one that put down the lush red carpet for developers? No thanks, I’ll go with outside consultants. Pensions need to go.

And before the Commissioners think they have unyielding support, their necks are on the chopping block when their elections come. Now that I’ve been in this town a while I will scrutinize their performance and call them out on decisions that were not in the best interest of Hollywood. I can accept mistakes (no one is perfect), consistent bad moves means new blood is needed.

While we’re at it, I’d like to vote on a tax dollar basis. What’s that? Your vote counts as much as the taxes you pay to Hollywood. How do you like them apples?

Comment by Tchaka

I am a bit disappointed in this post. As I’ve mentioned before, I am an employee and a resident. I have been extremely unbiased in my views regarding this topic, and I expected the same from you given your level of knowledge. Rather than present a biased and one-sided post, shouldn’t you have been more forthcoming with the information you presented?
You state that if the referendum fails the city will be forced to impose further salary cuts and possibly even lay-offs. I do not think this is a true statement. The employees all offered proposals to the city which accomplished the necessary savings required by the city. In fact, I know for certain that two of the bargaining units offered proposals which exceeded the required savings. One of the unions restructured their DROP plan to such an extent that the city’s actuary gave an extremely positive endorsement of the plan and told the city it was possibly the best deal in the state from a city’s perspective. Yet, the city still turned these offers down without even presenting a counter-proposal. The union’s offers are still on the table. There’s NO reason why these offers shouldn’t be considered as a viable option if this referendum fails. If the city does choose to lay off employees and impose further salary reductions, the residents should be outraged. I know the employees will be. Why reduce services and continue to punish employees when they don’t have to?? This commission isn’t considering all possible options. The employees have already demonstrated on several occasions ( why aren’t you mentioning the previous concessions we’ve agreed to in the past 3 years?) that we are more than willing to make necessary sacrifices and concessions so the city can balance their budget. The city is using tax hikes, pay cuts and layoffs as a scare tactic ( by the tone of this post, I believe you are as well. “astronomical” tax increases?? That’s a very subjective claim). Just like they used the referendum vote as leverage in the negotiations with the unions. The city didn’t feel like they needed to consider the unions’ proposals with a referendum vote on the horizon. The city is willing to challenge the Florida constitution at a cost of at least $2.3 million in legal fees by imposing these unilateral changes to the employees’ contracts. The city thinks it’s prudent to spend $400k on a referendum vote, and an unknown amount on advertising (possibly illegally) in favor of the referendum. These measures are unnecessary. While the city claims they have made a genuine effort to ‘negotiate’ with the employees to address this problem, the absolute fact is the city is making false statements and has only gone through the motions with the employees.
As for skyrocketing pension costs, this is a true statement. However, it doesn’t bring to light the true issues at hand. First, the state passed Senate Bill 1128 this year which will significantly reduce the cost of pensions by removing several of the items which you have been outspoken about from pension calculations. Second, the city should have been more responsible with their funds during the years of prosperity and set money aside to supplement the pension costs during the inevitable economic slowdown that predictably occurs in this country. It’s not as if the concept of a bear market is a novel idea. And now, because the city officials chose to irresponsibly spend the taxpayers’ money during the good years, they are knocking on our doors and orchestrating a bailout with the employees’ and taxpayers’ money. This is unacceptable! And the fact that an informed activist like you is supporting it is extremely disappointing. Why aren’t you representing the issues and being more transparent to your readers? Your note that the referendum wouldn’t touch any current pension benefits isn’t true. I know for a fact that the firefighters will be losing a pension benefit… the DROP plan. Every year, the city is given a Ch 175 supplemental payment from the state to offset the cost of pension benefits for firefighters. The surplus funds are supposed to be paid out to the employee when he/she retires. For decades, the firefighters have agreed ot let the city have these surplus funds in exchange for pension benefits such as the DROP. Every year, the city pocketed between $1 and $2 million dollars that the firefighters were entitled to. Now that it’s time for some of these firefighters to retire, the surplus funds aren’t available ( what did the city spend these millions of dollars on??) and the DROP plan is being taken away. You are condoning outright robbery by the commissioners by supporting and perpetuating their claims regarding the pensions and their rising costs. How can you not recognize that this scenario has been orchestrated by this commission so they can have their cake and eat it too?
Hold this commission accountable! Do not give them the blind support they are seeking, it will only encourage them to continue to be wasteful and irresponsible in their future financial decisions, and then turn around and demand that the residents and employees bail them out. Vote NO and force the commission back to the negotiating table. Make them give a genuine effort in negotiations with the employees. Many of us are also residents and want to see this city run properly so it flourishes. The tactics being used by this commission are shameful and possibly even illegal. Do not encourage these tactics! Vote NO and let the employees fix the problems.

Comment by Brian Wilkie

Dear Balancesheeblog,

Clearly your point of view comes strongly from city provided literature. I am sure your intent is good, as you appear to care about the city and the employees also. However, what they are presenting is slanted to achieve their goal. I don’t expect you to keep this post on your blog, but I thought I’d try anyway, and share some points to consider.

Points to Consider

• The city of Hollywood Commission is trying to close down your police department and turn it over to BSO.
• Commissioners and the Mayor have exempted themselves from pension cuts.
• The PBA agreed to more cuts than were asked for by the city, but their offers were denied by the city commission.
• In fiscal year 2011, the City Commission has declared financial urgency two times, and used police officers as pawns, threatening them with layoff a total of three times.
• The commission slashed officer pay 17.5 percent so far this year (FY 2011)
• The total adopted budget of the City of Hollywood for fiscal year 2011 was $352,579,559.
• The commission has arbitrarily chosen 8.5 million as the number they wish to extract from employee pensions for next year (FY 2012). This is approximately .025% of the entire city budget (2011).
• In order to do this the city intends to spend up to 2.2 million in attorneys fees to make this 8.5 million dollar cut. The attorneys win, everyone else loses.
• The commission spent $400,000 of money from our pay cuts to hold the special referendum. They have now spent $50,000.00 more on “pension related materials” (direct mail to citizens trying to sway them to vote yes)
• The commission is willing to forfeit 3 million dollars annually in money provided from the state office of retirement pursuant to Florida chapter 175 and 185. They have ignored a signed letter from the office of retirement stating that they would no longer be eligible for this annual money because the changes they are proposing are less than the state standards for public safety special risk pensions.
• That’s up to 5.6 million spent by the city this year, with future annual loss of 3 million in state funds to save an estimated 8.5 million. Net “savings” are actually 5.5 million.
• The actual loss is immeasurable. Hollywood PD is now the lowest paid Police department in Broward County. Retaining qualified people will be difficult, when considering the already enacted 17.5% cuts, and proposed pension slashing which will leave our department on uneven standing with most agencies in the South Florida area. Officers have already begun to resign and leave for other departments with a stable job for their families.
• The PBA went to the negotiating table several times and offered more than the 2.6 million the city requested from the police, making additional significant cuts to our pension. The city refused to accept our offer, even though it was more than what they asked us to give, and addressed their concerns of unfunded liabilities.
• This has occurred in the same fiscal year that they painted our water tower for $680,000, continue to pay for a non-functional citywide wifi system that has cost $15,000,000, and pave streets (the short ones) on the beach for hundreds of thousands to 1 million dollars each.
• All the while, they have maintained 22 million dollars in CRA accounts, which are not designated for specific expenditures.
• Hundreds of thousands in CRA taxpayer monies have been used to provide grants to local businesses, often without repayment to taxpayers.
• This is about far more than a net savings of 5.6 million. This is a personal campaign to demoralize our department and make us ripe for a takeover by BSO. How much can membership take in cuts and staff reductions? We are already approximately 40 positions short and will soon lose far more officers due to retirements and resignations.
• Commissioners have now launched a personal campaign, actually manipulating numbers and lying to achieve their goals of demoralizing the members of our department, and backing out on agreements with employees (by this same commission), which were renewed as recently as 2 years ago. It is not true that benefits will not change for current employees. This is a lie by Mayor Bober and the Commission.
• The information they are “spinning” is frequently not true and presented to achieve their goal of passing this referendum. They will tell you this is the “only way” to save money and jobs. This is not true. They could negotiate in good faith to resolve their issues, as we have tried unsuccessfully to do.
• Commissioners have launched a slanted and dishonorable campaign against the officers who protect you and your neighborhoods on a daily basis. Hollywood is a large city in a metropolitan area. Most cities value their police departments, as they are the last line between order and disorder in a community. The commission has dishonorable motives, namely demoralizing the members of this department and making us ripe for a takeover by BSO.
• When we began working here, we were never given a choice of whether or not to participate in an alternative plan. We paid into our pension as agreed for our entire careers, to now have the commission change the rules on a whim at the last minute. Hollywood police officers currently pay 9.5% of their pay into their pensions. It is inherently unfair and Un-American to change the rules this late in the game as they are trying to do, especially when they portray us as the parties responsible for the city’s financial woes in order to cover up for their incompetence in spending and management of taxpayers dollars.
• The Hollywood police pension fund has had positive in recent years, in contrast to what commissioners may tell you. During the good years, the city made money from the funds, and failed to put in what they had originally planned, spending it elsewhere. There are new state laws to prevent this now.
• While breaking our contract under the cover of “financial urgency”, the city has continued to waste money. Even though City manager Cameron Benson resigned after a public tantrum by Mayor Bober, they commission later voted to call it an “agreed termination”. They did honor his contract and paid a $300,000 combined severance and payout to Benson in addition to his $9,000 monthly pension.
• Many people wouldn’t do our job “for a million bucks”. We do it for far less. We do it for commitment to our community and a simple promise of our paycheck and our retirement as agreed upon in our contract with the city. They now blame their problems on us and attack our paychecks and our agreed retirement, with no regard for sacrifices (personal safety, exposure to civil and criminal liability for actions taken as part of our jobs, exposure to diseases and family and personal stresses inherent in police work) made by police officers on a daily basis. All those things are part of our chosen career, but they now try and change the agreed (by contract ) pay and benefits, well after many of us have made so many of those same sacrifices.
• Please support us. Force the city to honor their commitments to the men and women who have committed their lives to protect you. Vote No to the city’s referendum attacking it’s employees. Force the city to negotiate.

Comment by Employee




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