The city’s police pension plan is ailing in part because officers can draw retirement benefits too young, the chairman of a legislative committee said this week.
The age at which Galveston police can draw benefits must be raised if the pension plan is to be sustainable, state Rep. Dan Flynn said at a meeting in Galveston.
Flynn, chairman of the House Pensions Committee, requested a meeting in Galveston about the island police department’s struggling pension plan, Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.
The age at which island police officers are eligible to draw pensions continues to be a sticking point in negotiations to bolster the pension plan after a Thursday meeting with representatives from the state legislature.
A Galveston officer can retire at age 45 with reduced benefits, or at age 50 with full retirement, after 20 years of service.
The retirement age isn’t something the police are eager to budge on, 20-year Galveston officer Sgt. John W. Courtney said.
“I am pretty frustrated because we’ve been doing what we’re supposed to do,” Courtney said. “I think we are far off on the age.”
Sen. Larry Taylor, along with Flynn’s chief of staff and state Rep. Dennis Paul, another pension committee member, also visited city hall Thursday.
The city and police pension board have been trying to reach agreement before January’s legislative session to avoid state intervention in negotiations, officials said.
All parties involved have said they’d rather come to an agreement at the local level.
“I don’t foresee this ever being solved at a state level without the two of us coming together,” pension board Chair Geoff Gainers said.
Flynn last year designed a plan to save the ailing Dallas and Houston pensions, leaving both sides to make tough changes, Flynn said.
Galveston’s police pension isn’t nearly so bad, Flynn said.
“If it’s too good to be true, it really probably is too good to be true,” Flynn said.
Yarbrough doesn’t think all the disagreements will be solved at the local level, though he’d like it to, he said.
“They’re going to do things that both the city and the pension board aren’t happy about,” Yarbrough said.
Flynn advocated for a higher retirement age, he said.
“Most people retire at 62,” Flynn said. “When you’re retiring at 50, you’re putting a major strain on the pension. I think 50 is pretty young to retire.”
The city also advocated raising the age at which police can begin drawing their pension.
“Rep. Flynn and his chief of staff made it very clear that the retirement age had to be raised,” city spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said.
The city presented an option to move the pension draw age to 55, though it was not discussed at length, Gainer said.
Where the two parties have been moving toward agreement is on a fund determined by an actuary and a supermajority vote required to change funding methods.
“Every meeting, we get a little bit closer,” Gainer said.
The city and pension board plan on more discussions next week, he said.
The two parties have been in talks for several years to repair a system with more than $30 million in unfunded liability, according to police pension board review documents.