Chattanooga Mayor, public safety groups approve of pension reform proposal

When Andy Berke ran for the office of Chattanooga mayor, the city’s police and fire unions supported his bid. But allegiances change fast in politics, and Berke’s post-election crusade to cut pension costs drew the ire of the unions that had once backed him.

Now, after months of tense negotiations and an onslaught of police and firefighter retirements, the Mayor has approved a deal designed to overhaul the pension plan provided to the city’s police and firemen.

The plan would increase retirement ages for new hires and current employees with less than 10 years on the job. Cost-of-living increases would also be scaled back, and employee contributions would be increased by up to 37%.

Despite the cutbacks, the police and fire employees of Chattanooga seemed to have a jump in their step after the plan was announced. reports:

The mood at the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge was palpably different, even positive, Thursday. Berke stood shoulder-to-shoulder with union reps who were skeptical of the administration only a month prior.

Toby Hewitt, the outgoing FOP president and a task force member, reminded reporters of the historically strained relationship between employee groups and City Hall. Then, he applauded the Berke administration for its willingness to seek their input and take their ideas and concerns seriously.

“That was a valuable part in the success of this,” he said.

“I feel like we have won because we have a defined-benefit plan that most of the other agencies across this nation do not have and it’s going to be solid,” Sgt. Toby Hewitt, president of the Chattanooga Fraternal Order of Police, told the Times Free Press.

The deal is projected to save the city $200 million over 26 years, but the city has hired two actuary firms that are now set to examine the proposal and project the savings it might bring.

Before the plan becomes law, it must go to a vote through the Fire and Police Pension Board and the City Council.

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