April 9, 2007
AUGUSTA, Ga.---New changes may be on the way for those of you planning to retire from the city of Augusta. An information meeting was held tonight to discuss changes to the current pension plan.
It's an issue that has been up in the air for a few years now, and the city is getting close to making a decision on which plan works best.
Tonight was the last information meeting before the Commission votes on the future of Augusta's retirees and their benefits. The decision will affect about two thousand city employees.
You could see the concerned looks and puzzled faces of the Augusta firefighters who attended the meeting.
Commissioners received an overview of a proposed "combined" pension plan. What's at stake is health care and insurance for city employees once they retire. The Commission will vote whether or not to add health benefits with an additional plan, but it's the waiting that has a lot of workers worried.
"We've got to do something for our firefighters," said Charles Masters of Augusta Professional Firefighters. "We've got to get them out of here at a decent age, where they still have quality of life."
Masters speaks for the approximately 300 Augusta firefighters. He says that the bottom line is doing the right thing--not just for firefighters, but for all those who take care of crucial services for Augusta each day.
"The problem is we've got 60-year-old firefighters riding trucks that's protecting our community, and at some point we need to address that problem," he said. "I think the Commission realizes the problem, it's just, how are we going to fund it and still maintain a sizeable workforce?"
"Pretty much 80 percent of our employees will be impacted by this," said interim human resources director Robby Burns. Burns says that funding is going to be the biggest challenge. There is money allotted already for retirement, but not for extended healthcare.
"If we're only talking about the pension side of things, it's probable we will have a little savings, but with the health insurance, that's a new cost...so that's the plan, to have the best plan we can possibly offer for our employees when they reach retirement age."
"The issue is with funding health insurance for the future," Masters said. "It's not with funding the program. The employees are going to pick up the burden of the cost. The question is how are we going to fund health care in 30 years out. But I'm pleased we're moving in the right direction."
The Commission will vote April 17.
Right now both sides say they are confident the health care will be covered. The issue now is selecting the right plan or plans that can and will be properly funded.