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While there may be a common perception that firefighter benefits are “taxpayer funded”, taxpayers are actually paying for only about one-fifth of the benefits with the other eighty percent coming from the trust of cumulated investment returns since 1937 plus the firefighters’ own payroll contributions. So, the City’s claim that they are required to pay for the majority of the firefighter benefits is inaccurate.
On the Fund’s refusal to hand over Members’ personal information to the Mayor
The Fund is understandably reluctant to divulge pension members’ personal financial information, as in the past the Mayor has used members’ information for her political purposes by sharing it with The Houston Chronicle to support her political objective of gaining local control of the Fund. The Fund’s current actuarial valuation and annual report are very comprehensive and provide the City all information reasonably necessary for its budgeting process.
On the Mayor’s claims that pension costs are excessive
The rate that the City of Houston contributes into the plan is 23.9% of fire department payroll. That number was set for a three-year period which ends on June 30, 2014, and constitutes a savings of nearly $38 million to the City compared to the prior three year period. This proves utterly false the Mayor’s suggestion that firefighters’ pension costs are unsustainable.
On the importance of the firefighters’ pension as compensation
Houston firefighters rank nationally 139th in pay and receive no Social Security benefits. Houston averages more high-risk calls to its firefighters than any other city with a comparable population density.
As with all public employees, pension benefits are an important aspect of Houston firefighter compensation, and compromising their pension benefits would be both unfair and undermine their incentive to serve the citizens of Houston.