Monday, May 14, 2012

Stratford Fire Chief

Can there be a better job than Assistant Fire Chief in the town of Stratford, Connecticut? Buried inside the Connecticut Sunday Post yesterday was a very well researched article by Brittany Lyte on the recent retirement of Stratford’s Assistant Fire Chief, Thomas S. Murray, whose pension will be $122, 850 per year for the rest of his life.

Incredibly, Murray is only 48 years old and the pension represents a 36% increase over his annual salary of $90,598. Pensions were originally intended to provide income for employees when they were no longer able to work. Murray is retiring at the prime of life almost 20 years before most of the taxpayers of Stratford will be able to collect their Social Security benefits.

A pension plan that would enable an employee to retire at age 48 on half pay is generous enough, but to take early retirement on more than 100% of pay boggles the mind. Moreover, the cost to the Town of Stratford is enormous. To get an idea just consider that at 4% interest it would take about three Million dollars to provide an annual income of $122000. Of course, this does not take into consideration the present value of future cost of living increases.

The article went on to note that Murray’s case was just one of many. Murray’s wife, former Assistant Fire Chief Ellen Murray, had retired two years earlier with a pension of $92050 per year, also in excess of her $87959 final salary. She currently serves in Naugatuck as Deputy Fire Chief at an annual salary of $68000. A police captain retired in 2008 with a pension of $134525 per year, about 160% of his final salary. More than half of the 71 town employees who retired in the past 5 years “are earning more or nearly the same amount of money in retirement than they did from their former base pay.”

How could this happen? Obviously, the firefighter’s pension plan allows top ranking employees to load up on overtime in their last years of service in order to increase their pension benefits. One wonders if the Town’s negotiators were just stupid, or whether they were shrewd enough to realize that every perk they gave to firemen and policemen would also go to them and their families.

In any event, the Town of Stratford is now contractually burdened by these overly generous pension provisions. Currently, it would appear that the Town is fighting the attempt of former Assistant Chief Murray to increase his pension even further through a Workman’s Compensation claim. The Town might also want to investigate the overtime allocation policies of its Police and Fire departments.

Finally, the first step in Pension reform throughout the State would be to remove all elected officials and political appointees from participation in these Pension plans. Otherwise, they will have no incentive to reform the system. ###

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