For some, retirement pays well

For some retired police officers and firefighters, their “golden years” are truly golden.

 

By Charles Sercombe

The cost of public safety isn’t the only big ticket item in the city’s operating budget.

The cost of providing police and fire services tallies up to $11 million a year.

The city’s pension cost is right up there, eating up $3.5 million a year to support 251 retirees (as of  November) and their beneficiaries. And for 51 retirees, their pensions would be the envy of many ordinary Hamtramck residents.

According to the 2010 Census, the median income for Hamtramck residents is $24,366.

But for those 51 pensioners, retirement puts them well above that average, earning at least $4,000 a month — or $48,000 and more a year — according to city records.

The top 51 pensioners are all retired from the police or fire departments.

The highest pension earner is one of the retired fire chiefs, who collects $9,337 a month, or in other words $112,044 a year.

It’s not clear how that retired fire chief, who is in his 50s, managed to qualify for that amount of money, although in general pensions are based on the best five earning years. Any unused days off are given a monetary value and used to factor pensions.

For many police and fire retirees, the calculation for pensions also included overtime pay. In the 1980s, the Police Department offered unlimited overtime for traffic patrol.

Some officers racked up $20,000 extra per year working overtime.

Councilmember Robert Zwolak said that for the most part, employees “legitimately put their time in.”

But, he said, there were those who “took advantage of it.”

Zwolak also conceded that past city officials agreed to labor contracts that were far too generous.

Acting City Manager Kyle Tertzag, a Downriver native who came on board in the fall, said he has never seen a labor pension system like this.

“What were they thinking?” Tertzag said of former city officials.

Here’s a clue. One longtime councilmember famously said: “If you’re not related, you’re obligated.”

Hamtramck’s pension roll has some oddities in it. In one peculiar case, the son and daughter of a deceased police chief are named his beneficiaries and both earn $2,928 a month, or a little more than $35,000 a year each. Considering their relatively young age, Hamtramck taxpayers will be supporting the pair for the next 30 to 40 years.

In another case, two retired Department of Public Works employees who were caught and convicted of stealing parking meter money are also collecting pensions.

The combined cost for operating the police and fire departments as well as funding pensions and providing health insurance makes up the majority of the city’s spending – about $17 million out of an $18 million budget.

Acting City Manager Tertzag had only one word to describe the situation: “Unsustainable.”

Pressed further, he said “The enormity of this is mindboggling.”

All of this could come crashing down on the city if city officials can’t find a way to balance the budget. By June, it is projected that the city will be $3.5 million in debt.

Tertzag said city employees could face payless paydays by the end of the month. Tertzag said he has been skipping payments to the pension fund – so far by $1.2 million – to avoid payless paydays.

One way the city could save $2-3 million is by restructuring the Fire Department, either by downsizing and staffing it with part-timers or disbanding the department and contracting out services to Detroit or Highland Park.

One thing appears to be certain: A change is coming to Hamtramck.

13 Responses to For some, retirement pays well

  1. Dave

    March 22, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    Council member Zwolak…..Now I have been told by sources within MERS (the city’s current pension provider) that you in fact receive a pension from the City of Hamtramck. Seems as you too were a beneficiary as well from this pension “abuse”……Seems a bit funny.

  2. Only the facts

    March 22, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    In response to the fact that a retired chief is collecting approx $10,000.00 a month as a pension payment…Let me clue everybody in as to how that came about.
    Approximately 10 years ago the city laid off 1/3 of the fire dept. and because of that,and the fact that the contract with the city requires 7 firefighters on duty at all times,large amounts of overtime were required. The chief seen this as an opportunity,along with the master mechanic,to pad their pensions by changing their status as “Back Office” personnel to the role of firefighters. In doing so they manipulated the overtime process so that they were “Called In” for overtime on a regular basis. Now you have the 2 highest paid members of the fire dept. earning time and a half on a regular basis. the Firefighters Union at that time told the city that the overtime costs were skyrocketing and the city did nothing to curtail it.
    Understand that there are pay raises as a firefighter receives a promotion of approx 10%. For example a motor engineer(truck driver) makes approx 10% more than a firefighter. The next promotion is to Lieutenant then Capt. then fire marshal then master mechanic then chief. So in essence a chief makes approx. 50 to 60% more than a firefighter. Now tell me how does it make sense to lay off 13 firefighters and then pay a chief to work their shift for 60% MORE than the laid off firefighter would of made???
    That is how the city is now obligated to pay such an outrageous sum to one individual.
    The city has made mistakes like this OVER and OVER AGAIN!!!
    The firefighters Union told the city that laying off 1/3rd of the dept it would bite them in the butt and now that is is…The Union is to blame! Shame on the politicians that let this happen…You know who you are!
    I hope some day some one looks into the fact that for years the city charged the residents LESS than they were paying to the city of Detroit for the water they use. Why??? ’cause you cant get re-elected if you raise water rates!!! That too is now coming back to haunt the city and how do they intend to pay for the deficit? By targeting the fire dept. There have been so many bad decisions on the cities part and now those bad decisions are coming back to haunt them and they are using the fire dept. as the fall guys!
    WAKE UP CITIZENS of HAMTRAMCK!!! The cities poor management is what has put them in this bind and YOU will be the ones that will pay in the end with a lesser quality of public safety!
    I can’t wait to have the F.B.I reveal what they find after their investigation….’cause the things I mentioned above were all legal. Just wait ’till you find out about the illegal things they’ve tried to get away with!!!

  3. Mike Szymanski

    March 22, 2013 at 11:44 pm

    I am sick and tired of being blamed for the City’s financial problems. The City politicians have no problem pushing the blame on Police & Fire Fighters, however they take no fault for their mis- management of the City, and poor judgement on several land and contract deals that cost the City millions of dollars.Current Police and fire fighters, and the ones that are now retired, risked their lives every day to protect the City and it’s residents. I personally did this every day for twenty five years. Now that I’m retired, the City wants to make me look bad because I collect a pension that I funded while a police officer, and rightfully earned. I was the one who put on that uniform everyday and fought the fight, not you. Enough is enough. When I took my oath, I honored it for twenty five years and fufilled my end of the bargain. Now that’s it time for the City to uphold their end of the bargain, they want to change the rules. Police & Fire fighters run to a problem that most people run away from.That’s what we were paid to do, and that’s what we did. Now that we completed our mission, the City wants us to go away and not collect on what we are rightfully earned, and are owed. When was the last time you ran down a dark alley chasing armed robbery suspects, or someone who just murdered someone? when was the last time you ran into a burning house to save someone’s life? How come I’m not seeing any articles that accuse the City politicians of mis-management, or failure to promote the City to bring business in? Where’s the articles that explain their poor jugement on several deals that cost the City millions? It’s easy for someone to play arm chair quarterback on someone else’s dime. I can tell you this, “you won’t take any of the benefits I earned and contributed too without a fight”. Respectfully, Michael J. Szymanski retire police detective

  4. Only the facts

    March 23, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    I would like to add that the chief in question took the money that was available to him just as an overpaid athlete would accept the outrageous sums of money they are offered albeit the chief got his in a bit of an underhand manner.
    In his defense and as another example of what is standard operating procedure in the city let me clue the citizens into how the new windows were obtained and installed in the firehouse.
    After a fire,most times there is enough damage to require a company to have to come in and board up the structure.
    The chief became quite friendly with one particular board-up company and “recommended” that our dispatcher call this one company after each fire. To show their gratitude the company gave all new windows to the chief for the firehouse. Generous…definitely! Suspicious…Perhaps! Illegal…I don’t think so. They were installed,over a period of time, by the master mechanic and various other members of the fire dept,depending on who was on duty at the time. So the firehouse now has new windows and it didn’t cost the city a dime!
    This is the way things are and have been done in the city for decades. What would be looked upon as suspicious in other communities is standard operating procedure in Hamtramck.
    Let’s now talk about the new windows in city hall. As I recall they were ordered at least 2 different times. The first time they came in and they were the wrong size. They were not returned to the manufacturer for a refund…They were put in the basement and ANOTHER set of windows were ordered and installed. Now just think about how many windows there are in city hall and multiply that number by lets say…approx $200.00 per window. Now multiply that figure by 2 and that is how much the windows in city hall cost the city. And that is not counting how much it cost to install them!!!
    Just another in the long list of times the city made a financial mistake and wasted taxpayer money.
    Lets have a discussion on the millions spent by the city on cleaning up and containing the toxins left behind after Acme White Lead Paint building was demolished. In that instance a special tax was levied on the citizens to pay for the cities blunder. Simply because when the demolition company was hired there was no follow upon the cities part to determine if the job was done properly. It was not and the city was held responsible. Again…This type of irresponsible action on the cities part is why the city has been broke for years. And the list goes on and on and on!!!
    Now in all these instances I would like to know how is this related to the public safety personnel? The only connection I can see is that now after the politicians getting themselves into another financial bind, they want to make the cities fire dept pay for their mistakes. And what’s even worse is that NOW they are going after the public safety retirees pensions. These retirees fulfilled their end of the bargain. They lived up to their end of their contract.
    It’s long past due that the cities leaders be held accountable for their mistakes and stop blaming others for their reckless fiscal behavior!

  5. Johnny Apollo

    March 23, 2013 at 9:06 pm

    The City, based on bad legal advice fought the old pensioners lawsuit for years, and ended up losing $10 million. Then the current city attorney recommended giving them a 3% cost of living raise for the rest of their lives. Prior to his involvement they received half of whatever raise the current officers received. Well now, the current officers haven’t gotten a raise in at least four years so the retirees would have been due half of nothing. But, under the Allen Brothers’ leadership they received 12% raise for these four years. Yet, he remains.

    What about the City creating a an unbudgeted position that isn’t in the charter, that of the asst. city manager. Why don’t they can her, and hire a full-time city attorney that would save approximately $500, 0000 a year.

    Instead of combining positions, and making due with less like the unions they separated the financial director from the income tax director creating another new position. Also, why don’t any of the appointees pay 15% into MERS like the union members do?

  6. Only the facts

    March 24, 2013 at 10:54 am

    Now lets talk about this statement….
    This won’t take long.

    “Hamtramck’s pension roll has some oddities in it. In one peculiar case, the son and daughter of a deceased police chief are named his beneficiaries and both earn $2,928 a month, or a little more than $35,000 a year each. Considering their relatively young age, Hamtramck taxpayers will be supporting the pair for the next 30 to 40 years.”

    Now,knowing that ALL contracts are negotiated,how stupid do you have to be to allow this in a contract? The city agreed to it and now they have to live up to it.
    Even the current Acting City Manager states…
    “What were they thinking?” Tertzag said of former city officials.
    Now because the city was foolish in their contract negotiations does that allow them to be released from their obligations? It shouldn’t!

  7. Curious

    March 28, 2013 at 10:25 am

    Why would anyone in their right mind allow a beneficiary of a pension to be anyone other than a spouse or a minor (until the age of 18)? I’m not sure I understand this or why MERS would ever allow this?

  8. Only the facts

    March 28, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    Mers only administers the terms that are agreed upon by the two parties involved.As a former Union member I too am appalled by this. This is just another example of some of the reckless financial behavior on the part of the City. The list is long.

  9. Only the facts

    March 29, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    Also….The Chief is NOT a member of the Firefighters Union! He negotiates his contract directly with the City as an individual. So any sweetheart deal the Chief has/had with the City is a result of irresponsible fiscal behavior on their part…Not the Unions,but the City seems to have no problem in blaming the Union for their financial instability.

  10. csercombe

    April 17, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    Only the facts, regarding this:

    “In response to the fact that a retired chief is collecting approx $10,000.00 a month as a pension payment…Let me clue everybody in as to how that came about.
    Approximately 10 years ago the city laid off 1/3 of the fire dept. and because of that,and the fact that the contract with the city requires 7 firefighters on duty at all times,large amounts of overtime were required. The chief seen this as an opportunity,along with the master mechanic,to pad their pensions by changing their status as “Back Office” personnel to the role of firefighters. In doing so they manipulated the overtime process so that they were “Called In” for overtime on a regular basis. Now you have the 2 highest paid members of the fire dept. earning time and a half on a regular basis. the Firefighters Union at that time told the city that the overtime costs were skyrocketing and the city did nothing to curtail it.”

    are you sure this was 10 years ago? Was schimmel in charge?

  11. Dave

    April 17, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    Schimmel was definitely in charge when that happened. The union has always been highly opposed of the use of overtime to “fill” vacancies but the city refuses to listen. There are significant short term and long term costs which we are now seeing. When will the city leaders wake up and start listening to the unions who have many many years of experience, when in fact the city leaders are proven losers time and time again and continue to cost the city money when they could be saving money? Everybody is so quick to attack the unions but in reality it’s not their fault. Mismanagement has always been the core problem of this city. I can’t wait for the EM to come in again and put these idiotic “city leaders” out of business. The bad part is we are probably also going to lose our police and fire departments as a result of the EFM.

  12. Only the facts

    April 17, 2013 at 9:53 pm

    It may have been just less than 10 years and Crawford may have been the city manager at the time but I believe Schimmel was still overseeing the cities finances. At any rate the fact that the chief and master mechanic took full advantage of the situation is correct and because of their greed the city employees,that played by the rules,are being looked upon as the bad guys.
    I know that you know of the many financial mistakes the city has made over the years and I wish these mistakes on the cities part would be made public rather than simply always blaming the workers for the cities financial problems.
    Thank you for your time…..

  13. Only the facts

    April 17, 2013 at 11:48 pm

    Please refer to paragraphs 10 and 11…

    http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20130417/METRO01/304170453/1409/metro/Snyder-appoints-financial-review-team-Hamtramck

    3 years to go from financial solvency to a request for bankruptcy. Really???
    Am I the only one who can see that the cities so called “Leaders” are not doing their job well???

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