Arkansas voters Tuesday rejected statewide ballot Issue No. 2, which would have enabled municipalities and county governments to issue bonds to help roll over their police and fire pension plans to the state-run plan that replaced municipally run plans in 1983.
Complete but unofficial results, according to the Secretary of State’s website, were:
For — 221,626 votes, 44 percent
Against — 279,809, 56 percent
A total of 501,435 votes had been counted by press time, with 19 out of 75 counties finished reporting and about 25 percent of total votes counted.
Municipal plans that predate 1983 face difficulties in staying afloat without younger members paying into the plans and because of other issues. Pine Bluff has such pension funds for both the police and fire departments, and like other such funds across the state, they are projected to run out of money before the deaths of the last member.
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 were clear at the time that the decision was a temporary fix and more would need to be done to shore up the funds.
In Jefferson County at deadline Tuesday, a slim majority of voters had approved the measure, with 11,634 votes at 51 percent. Voting against the measure were 11,110 voters at 49 percent. Seventy-four percent of precincts in the county had been counted by press time.
City Finance Director Steve Miller said in an interview in late October that ballot Issue No. 2 might have, if passed, provided some long-range help.
Miller said, if approved, the measure would have given “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 www.lopfi-prb.com .
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.
“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,” Miller said.
Miller declined to comment on the election results Tuesday, citing potential legal issues.
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.