City officials rush to fix Fort Worth's pension problem

They saw the disaster in Dallas and don't want it to happen in Fort Worth.

The pension that thousands of retired first responders and city employees rely on is in danger. On Tuesday, Fort Worth city leaders will consider a massive overhaul to keep the program afloat.

The city council will get their first look at the proposed changes that need to be made to fix the city's broken pension fund. They are changes that some say just aren't fair.

Retired Fort Worth Police Officer Paul Mertz says he depends on the money from his pension's yearly cost of living increase. The thought of losing it now after spending 35 years on the force scares him.

"We were promised a two percent raise after we retired,” he said. “For me, it's very important. When your living on a fixed income, and I am, it helps."

The cost of living adjustment, or COLA, may disappear in a massive overhaul of the city's pension system. Right now, Fort Worth has $1.6 billion in unfunded liability, meaning the pension fund will eventually run out of money in 25 to 30 years if nothing is done. The COLA represents $400 million of that. The city is proposing changes to make up the shortfall.

"They will bring forward a proposal that's an increase in city contributions, essentially taxpayers and employee increase, and some potential changes to the benefits,” explained Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price.

Employee groups from the police and fire departments and civilian workers have offered to pay more into the system to make up the shortfall.

But after weekly meetings for the past several months with the city manager, Fort Worth Police Officers Association President Manny Ramirez says he won't support any proposal that eliminates COLA.

“Because they retire broken down mentally and physically,” he said. “The job is tough. So whenever they walk away, I would like to know that the officers that served my community, that protect my children and my family are secure."

The city and retirees both say in years past when funding issues came up, they made sacrifices. They know sacrifices will have to be made again.

"I had expected to have a decent retirement with a 2% increase every year,” Mertz said. “And it looks like I'm not going to have that now."

“And I understand that. Absolutely, I understand that,” Price said. “But somewhere, we have to make structural changes as well as increased contributions."

City leaders and employees vow to solve it themselves rather than have state legislators step in to help. The mayor reminded people that Tuesday is just a proposal. There will, no doubt, be a lot of tweeking as they work out a solution.