Government asks employees to contribute more to pensions


City officials say municipal workers should pay more toward their retirement and health care plans, but government employees arent keen on the idea after years of austerity. 

Included in the citys fiscal year 2012 budget is a 1 percent hike in pension contributions for all municipal workers, from police officers to department heads. The move was made to offset city costs, said Bruce Johnson, director of Alexandrias Budget and Management Office.
The city is facing increased pension costs year over year the question is not about keeping it solvent, but who [will pay for the increases], Johnson said. 
Currently, civilian employees hired before fiscal year 2010 pay nothing toward their pensions. Firefighters and police officers, already contributing 8 percent of their pension costs as part of a separate retirement plan, would also see a 1 percent bump in their share. 
The rise is projected to save the citys general fund about $1.6 million. At the same time employees can expect a merit-based increase on the anniversary of their hire, Johnson said, though there may be a gap between the two for some.
In addition, City Hall gradually has pushed employees to up their health plan contributions. They can expect to see a 3 percent bump there as well in FY 2012. Its a roughly 50-50 split between employees who will come out positive and negative in the end, Johnson said.
The move comes as compensation costs have risen about $11 million, said City Manager Jim Hartmann. Not asking employees to up their contributions means potentially raising property taxes.
Its a fair deal, Hartmann said. 
Public service is public service, he said. There are a lot of things employees on the public side may give up for their positions.
City workers arent happy with the idea of coughing up the money period. Brenda DSylva of the Alexandria Government Employees Association says city staffers have quietly accepted years without pay increases and cost of living raises. Asking them to pay more for pensions now flies in the face of their sacrifice, she said. 
The thing is, the city has already acknowledged were behind in our pay, in our salary, as far as the surrounding jurisdictions go, DSylva said. Were already being paid so far below where we should be paid and when we retire, were going to be retiring so far behind. People who have given 20 or 30 years of their lives to service to the city are going to be retiring with thousands less than where [they] should be.
According to a February 23 city council work session presentation on employee compensation, the general pay scale is 7 percent below the market rate while the public safety pay scale falls 1 percent short.
Its evidence enough for DSylva that city employees are being paid less than their colleagues in other municipalities. Put Alexandrias city workers on the same playing field and then discuss pension options, she said. 
Were not these greedy government workers, but its the fact that were providing the citizens with great service in spite of being underpaid and overworked, DSylva said. Were providing all of these services, its only fair to be compensated for it Nobody is saying, give me more money. Just compensate us fairly.
Vice Mayor Kerry Donley believes employees will accept the hike in contributions if the added contributions kicked in with their merit-based increases. Its an issue of equity, he said. 
You would start contributing the 1 percent on your anniversary, so you wouldnt have that disparity, and it would attempt to treat the employees equally, Donley said.
But thats missing the point, said David Denardo, president of Alexandria Fire Fighters IAFF 2141. The city hasnt given employees cost of living adjustments in four years and a merit increase this year wont offset the extra pension and health care contributions theyre asking for, he said. 
If you look at this, what theyre doing is giving us something in one hand and taking it in another hand, Denardo said. When you put everything together a lot of public employees are in a bad spot.