13 Saint John officers retire
Union says proposed pension plan changes to blame
The Saint John Police Force lost 13 of its officers to retirement in the past year, many of them in recent months.
The police union says officers are trying to get out the door before the city makes any changes to the employees' pension plan.
"It's definitely causing some ruckus, we'll say," said union president Jamie Hachey, noting the 13 officers represent about 10 per cent of the workforce.
"There's all kinds of people scrambling around, doing their numbers, saying, you know, 'Can I get out before this changes?'"
The city wants the province to approve several controversial changes to the employees' pension plan to help deal with the plan's $163-million dollar deficit.
Among the proposed reforms, the city wants to cut cost-of-living adjustments for current employees and suspend indexing for retirees until the fund is fully recovered.
'They wanted to stay, but...you can't gamble around everything you've planned your life around.'—Jamie Hachey, Saint John Police Association
"There's all kinds of guys that would have stayed and worked," said Hachey.
"They wanted to stay, but you know with some hope of protecting the pension that they currently have they, you know, you can't gamble around everything you've planned your life around."
Meanwhile, several other officers "would leave tomorrow, but...they're short a few months," he said.
And several younger members have applied to the RCMP, hoping to get out, said Hachey.
He said he worries about the impact the losses will have on policing in the city.
"You can't cut (that many) bodies off the street policing and say we can still do the same job," he said.
He also worries about how it will affect the city's ability to recruit new officers.
55 city employees retired
City officials could not be reached for comment.
But in an email, city manager Pat Woods said a total of 55 employees retired last year.
That includes the 13 officers, nine firefighters, nine inside workers, 16 outside workers and eight managers.
About 50 more employees will be eligible to retire this year, said Woods.
If Saint John's pension legislation is not changed, indexing to the inflation rate will continue and the deficit will likely grow.
Cutting or suspending indexing for both current and retired workers is expected to reduce the deficit by $75 million.
The proposed reform package also calls for an additional $7 million annually in city contributions to the fund.
The Saint John employee pension plan was created by a special act of the provincial legislature so the legislature must approve any reforms.
The city's estimated 1,600 workers and retirees have vowed to lobby the provincial government to keep their cost-of-living increases.
City officials have said the only other options to deal with the deficit would be major service cuts, or a tax hike of well over $200 a year on an average home. Several city councillors have said property taxes will not be increased to cover off the pension shortfall.
The provincial government and city of Saint John have been negotiating a solution to the pension crisis for a year. Saint John initially requested the provincial government extend the payback period to 25 years on its pension deficit. But the provincial government rejected that plan in the spring.
Council missed the deadline to get the proposed changes passed during the last sitting of the legislature.
The city has requested a special January sitting to deal with the reform package.
But in an email dated Jan. 11, Premier David Alward rejected the request, saying he "believes it is best" the city set its target date to correspond with the opening of the regularly scheduled session in March.
Saint John Mayor Ivan Court has said he is hopeful the provincial government will be open to approving the changes.
But on Jan. 17, council backed away from passing the 2012 municipal budget, opting instead to table the $143-million document and meet behind closed doors over the weekend to discuss an alternate plan that includes a series of deep cuts and layoffs.
Councillors had questions surrounding what happens if the provincial government fails to approve the proposed cuts to city employee pension benefits when the legislature meets this spring.
Deputy Mayor Stephen Chase said the city would have to come up with $9 million right away, which would mean 100 layoffs.