Excerpt of Dave Johnson's remarks before the Hamden Legislative Council's budget hearing on Tuesday evening, April 3, 2012:
"The Hamden Fire Retirees’ Association, organized three years ago, is a group comprised of nearly 90% of all Hamden Fire Department retirees. We meet quarterly to stay connected fraternally and socially. We are the official retirement organization of the Hamden Professional Firefighters’ Association, Local 2687, of the I.A.F.F.
"In June 1975, after working without a contract for two years, Hamden firefighters accepted the Town’s offer of a 1% pay increase in the 1975-76 fiscal year. In addition, the Town agreed to thereafter pay each firefighters’ 6% pension contribution. Checking old Town budgets, it appears that the Town complied with the agreement for several years thereafter. However, the Town failed to keep its promise many times in the three decades since, and in recent years pension funding has not kept pace with the increasing number of retirees.
"By twenty years ago, there were 53 fire department retirees. From 1991 through fiscal 1997-98, the Town funded the pension plan each year at between $4 and $4.5 million. In the spring of 1998, Mayor Barbara Denicola requested $4.4 million of pension funding in her proposed budget for 1998-99. The Council approved only $1.7 million. There were now 66 fire department retirees.
"By start of the 1999-2000 fiscal year, there were nine more fire department retirees - and the Council’s approved pension funding was ZERO!
"It was ZERO again in 2000-01, and ZERO again in 2001-02. And by the end ofthat fiscal year, the number of fire department retirees had grown to 76!
"In the ten years since, annual pension funding has vacillated between $500 thousand and $12.5 million, but the funding has never equaled the annual pension outflow, resulting in an ongoing erosion of the pension fund to the point where we have been told that actuaries estimate that the pension plan will be exhausted in about three years.
"It is incredible to me and my fellow Hamden Fire Department retirees that, by grossly under-funding the pension all these years, past and present Executive and Legislative Town officials did not see a crisis looming. Instead, they just kicked the can down the road. And now, with 102 fire department retirees, it appears we are now rapidly approaching a cul-de-sac, which will be a disaster for retirees and taxpayers alike.
"We urge the Legislative Council to properly and adequately and responsibly fund the pension plan in the 2012-13 budget, so that our pension fund erodes no further."