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Police pensions predicament in St. Louis heads to Jefferson City


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A lot can change in one year’s time, especially in the political realm. But some are pointing to new legislation as signs of a dramatic shift in terms of the appreciation of law enforcement officers.

Several bills that had been filed in regard to the protection of law enforcement officers have been filed once again this legislative session, but one bill, in particular, has caught the eye of some police members of the state, in St. Louis, to be exact.

HB 2202, sponsored by Rep. Dean Plocher, R-Clayton, seeks to change some of the provisions regarding the police retirement system of St. Louis, addressing concerns of insolvency.

Plocher says the bill is simply about money, and more importantly, about promises. The current bill language allows for those employed before October 2018 to keep their current pension structure, while adjusting those who would be employed in the future.

Here are the 10 provisions contained in the bill:

  1. Members’ final average compensation will be calculated based on the last three years of creditable service as a police officer whether or not they are participating in DROP
  2. Members participating in the DROP, whose employment as a police officer terminates due to death or disability shall have their average final compensation calculated based on the last three years of creditable service
  3. Members may terminate employment as a police officer and actually retire after completing at least 10 years of service and attaining age 55
  4. Members may enter DROP after completing 20 years of creditable service
  5. Members in DROP shall earn interest at the rate of return earned by the 10-year United States Treasury bill plus 1% not to exceed 6%
  6. A member’s service retirement allowance shall not exceed 70% of the member’s average final compensation
  7. Retired members will receive an annual COLA based on the increase in the consumer price index up to 3% max with total increases capped at 25% total increase
  8. Members will not be eligible for the return of mandatory contributions upon retirement, but members terminating without being vested will receive the mandatory contributions back without interest
  9. Members will not be eligible for the additional benefits available under Section 86.254, RSMo
  10. Members will not be 100% vested until completing 10 years of creditable service and attaining the age of 55.

Plocher described the scenario as the city being a vehicle traveling down a road. That road eventually heads straight off a cliff, but Plocher said his intent was to provide a detour and prevent the vehicle traveling over the cliff.

But some groups are unhappy about the proposed legislation, the most outspoken group being those most likely to be affected by it: the Saint Louis Police Officers’ Association (SLPOA).

The SLPOA says that the pension bill is under attack by policymakers at the Pension System and City Hall, and contends that they have been pushing for this legislation rather than sitting down at the table and negotiating.

“We have tried hard to get the City to sit down with us about the impact of potential pension plan changes,” an email from SLPOA to members reads. “On December 19, 2017, the SLPOA formally requested in writing that they meet with us about pensions and salaries. The earliest meeting date they offered us was February 21, 2018.”

The SLPOA argues that it would create a divisive two-tier system for future police officers, and says that the current pension system is very healthy, funded at about 79.5 percent.

But Plocher and the supporters of the bill argue that the police officers in question make less than their counterparts surrounding them. They contend that with the current state of things, the officers of the city would not get a raise anytime soon, and instead, they should use this opportunity to address the issues of money with the city and the pensions and then come back later to work for raises.

On This Week in Missouri Politics, Jeff Roorda of the SLPOA called the bill a “raid on police pensions” and said it hurts cops.

“We have no doubts that Rep. Plocher’s intentions are pure, and that he has been led to believe that the system is in trouble and needs his help,” Roorda said. “The problem is that there is no truth to that.

“This is a system that is 79.5 percent funded, is in no danger of faulting on any of its obligations. To put it in perspective, MOSERS is only 60 percent funded, and it has no problem meeting its obligations. 80 percent funded is considered to be the benchmark for a stable and healthy fund.”

A letter has been circulated among members to send to the General Assembly by the SLPOA, asking the representatives to vote no on the bill.

“If you won’t vote no, please at least postpone the committee vote to give our duly elected representatives at the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association an opportunity to try to negotiate less damaging cuts to our pension plan on behalf of me and my 1,100 fellow members of the Association,” the letter reads.

Plocher says that, more than anything, it’s simply a case of everyone trying to do something for the right reasons, it just seems that not everyone can agree on what is best. Roorda agrees with that sentiment.

The bill could appear on the House floor this week for perfection.