Ballot measure would authorize bonds to curtail unfunded pension liabilities

Pine Bluff residents voted in a May 22 special election to increase the millage rate to a full mill for the pension funds of retired police officers and firefighters, but officials agree that the decision is only a temporary fix.

City Finance Director Steve Miller says that ballot Issue No. 2 might, if passed, provide some long-range help.

The constitutional amendment “concerns municipal and county financing of sales tax-anticipated revenue bond projects, unfunded liabilities of closed police and fire pension plans, and real and tangible personal property.”

Miller said if approved, the measure “would give cities the authority to issue bonds to pay off the unfunded liability on old police and fire pension plans so the members can be moved into the state LOPFI pension plan,” which isn’t popular with all current police officers and firefighters.

LOPFI refers to the Arkansas Local Police and Fire Retirement System, the statewide retirement system for paid and volunteer police officers and firefighters, according to .

The local police pension fund was created in 1941. The firefighters pension fund followed in 1947. The state in 1983 created a statewide pension fund for both groups, but those who previously served are being paid retirement benefits only from city funds, which are being depleted. Miller said other Arkansas cities are experiencing the same woes.

“The amendment also authorizes cities and counties to create economic development or redevelopment districts and issue bonds secured by city or county sales tax to pay for development within the districts,” said Miller.

Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr. noted in campaigning for the May millage increase that federal law does not allow those fire and police department retirees to receive Social Security benefits because they are covered by the local pension plans. As of early May, there were 79 retired police officers or their surviving spouses here receiving checks from the police pension fund, while 73 retired firefighters or their surviving spouses receive benefits from the firefighters pension fund.