Council votes down retirement plan change

By Mike Genet

The Blue Springs City Council has voted against changing the employee pension plan, deciding not to have a salary percentage payout in exchange for a mandatory employee contribution but with no city match.

The 4-3 vote on Monday led to a tense back-and-forth between Mayor Carson Ross and one council member, and another council member decrying the lack of decorum as she promised to bring back a different proposal for employee salaries and retirement.

Currently, Blue Springs is on the L-7 plan with LAGERS, the state’s Local Government Employee Retirement System, which uses 1.5 percent salary multiplier to determine an employee’s monthly pension. Employees also have an option to contribute up to 3 percent of their pay toward deferred compensation, which the city matches. The proposed move to L-6 would have put the multiplier at 2.0, but in Blue Springs’ case would also include a required 2 percent employee contribution and eliminate the city match toward deferred compensation.

The city currently pays more than $1.2 million annually toward LAGERS. Moving to L-6 would have increased the figure to $1.9 million, including prior work, though staff had also proposed a $11 million buydown to cover all the prior work, lowering the annual cost from current figures by $222,000. The resolution included the required 45-day notice before the council could formally adopt, and city staff would have used time between resolution and ordinance to survey employees on the issue. 

Council Members Susan Culpepper, Ron Fowler and Galen Ericson, along with Mayor Carson Ross, voted against the change. Council members Chris Lievsay and Kent Edmondson, who argued that the city is losing employees because its benefits lag behind peer cities, and Jerry Kaylor voted for it.

Kaylor questioned why the council wouldn’t want to give employees some voice in the matter through a formal survey and said the retirement matter was simply getting kicked down the road again. Culpepper said she would bring back a different resolution at the next council meeting that addressed both retirement and pay.

Ericson said he was in favor of better wages, but using a sum like $11 million toward retirements should be a matter for citizens’ votes.

Lievsay said the no vote, after all the prior work put into the matter, and three employee groups – police officers, dispatchers and public works – unionizing over the past several years show a lack of good government. He has said earlier that the city has enough reserves to address both better pay and retirement.

“If you don’t do this, you’re not going to have employees to pave the roads, or to keep the city safe, or to keep the parks clean,” he said. “This is beyond ridiculous. This issue doesn’t go away with this vote.” 

Ross told Lievsay it was not up to him to criticize other council members’ votes. 

“Each council member along with yourself has to make their decision,” the mayor said, hitting his gavel as he and Lievsay traded lines. “You’re responsible for your vote; you’re not responsible for other members’ votes. None of us are going to sit here and be lectured on what I thought some processes are.”

“The public will know what decision is, that you refuse to support the employees,” Lievsay said in one interjection. “It’s my job and my role as council member to criticize. … I’m responsible for how this council votes. It’s not a lecture, it’s a point of leadership, which we are severely lacking on this council.”

Ross said he did not agree with Lievsay’s definition of leadership, and ended the discussion with a final knock of the gavel.

Culpepper said Thursday she was finalizing numbers with city staff, but her proposal would help retirements simply by increasing salaries and thus what gets multiplied, in addition to raising the contribution program.

She said she didn’t like the idea of an $11 million buydown from city reserve funds, which could instead go in part toward street repairs, as well as eliminating the city contribution match.

If an employee is struggling to pay rent or mortgage, put food on the table and keep a working vehicle, Culpepper said, “That to me is more important than saying when they turn 70 they’ll get a few more dollars a month.”

“People are not leaving because of retirement, but because of lack of promotion, supervisory assistance and pay. I want everybody in this city, and everybody working in this city, to succeed.”