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Group says taxpayers are creating pension millionaires

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Calls for reform of public-employee retirement system

Thursday, November 17, 2011 - 6:21 am

Saying some local government employees stand to receive more than $1 million in lifetime pension benefits at taxpayer expense, a watchdog group Wednesday called for changes in public employees' retirement plans.

“While Allen County taxpayers struggle through this recession with an average wage of $37,300, a median home value of $108,000 and unemployment, government employees really rake it in while they are employed and then when retired. Taxpayers not only foot the entire bill for the lush salaries, but 100 percent of these government employee pensions are funded by the taxpayer. In many cases, even the lump-sum annuity savings account is also completely funded by the taxpayers, who will have to work until they drop to fund their neighbors' retirement,” Taxpayers United of America President Christina Tobin said in a statement.

Although Indiana University basketball Coach Tom Crean heads the list of state employees, with an estimated lifetime pension of $7.4 million based on his $600,000 salary, several local employees were noted by the group.

Heading the list of Allen County employees, for example, were Memorial Coliseum General Manager Randy Brown, with an estimated total lifetime pension of about $1.97 million based on a $148,963 salary; and Allen County Sheriff Ken Fries, with an estimated lifetime pension of $1.87 million on a $138,747 salary.

Some local public school employees are also estimated to earn more than $1 million in lifetime pension payouts, including the Fort Wayne Community Schools' Gregg Taylor, with an estimated lifetime pension of $1.12 million on a salary of $90,924. The city of Fort Wayne refused to provide salary and pension data, the group noted.

The group's estimates assume retirement after 30 years at age 55.

Pensions recently have been a focus of attention by Allen County Council members, who earlier this year voted to require county employees to contribute 3 percent of their salaries toward retirement. Council also voted to require police to do likewise, but is expected to rescind that decision Thursday because of doubts about the vote's legality.

Fries chuckled when informed of the group's conclusions.

“I should be so lucky (to collect more than $1.8 million in pension). A lot of officers die within five years or retirement. I haven't even looked at my retirement benefits, and I'm three years away.”

“Fort Wayne and Indiana state pension systems are making millionaires out of public employees at taxpayer expense,” said Tobin, who released her figures at a news conference in Fort Wayne.

“Ending pensions for all new government hires would eventually eliminate unfunded government pensions; putting new government hires into social security and 401(k)s would achieve this. If each current government employee were required to contribute 10 percent toward his or her pension, taxpayers would save billions of dollars.”

Founded in 1976 by Tobin's father, Tim, Taxpayers United of America bills itself as one of the country's largest taxpayer organizations, having helped defeat 190 property tax-increase votes since 1989 while being unsuccessful just 35 times.