Lansing Police and Fire Pensions Exceed Salaries
September 29, 2011

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The pensions of 3 Lansing public safety officers who retired in 2010 are higher than their salaries, which suggests that we could have saved money by keeping them on the job. They may be old and feeble at age 50, but I’m sure we could have found something useful for them to do. Here are the details:
 

Position

Salary

Age at Ret.

Service

FAC

Pension

Police Officer

$57,179

50 yrs 4 mos

25 yrs 0 mos

$80,603

$64,482

Fire Captain

$50,586

47 yrs 0 mos

25 yrs 0 mos*

$77,266

$61,813

Firefighter

$58,282

50 yrs 5 mos

25 yrs 0 mos*

$89,187

$71,350

*Purchased 2 months of service

 

I got this information through a Freedom of Information Act request.  I asked for pension details on 7 recent retirees. For the 4 not listed above – one police officer and 3 employees from departments other than fire and police - pension did not exceed salary.

 

One reason pensions for Lansing’s public safety officers are so high is that the multiplier used in calculating the pension is 3.2%, more than twice the 1.5% for state retirees. Pensions are calculated by multiplying total service times final average compensation (FAC) times a multiplier. For example, the pension for the firefighter (above) was calculated as 25 x $89,187 x .032 = $71,349.60.

 

The other reason is FAC. For all City employees, FAC is the average of the employee’s best 2 years out of the last 10, and those 2 years are almost always the 2 immediately preceding retirement. In addition to salary, it includes longevity, gun and clothing allowance, sick leave reimbursement, shift premium, overtime and retroactive pay. For the 3 retirees listed above, FAC exceeded salary (calculated by multiplying hourly rate by 2080) by an average of $27,003.

 

Retirees and their dependents also get health, dental and vision insurance.

 

On November 8, Lansing voters will be asked to approve a 4 mill increase in property taxes. Three of those 4 mills will be dedicated to police and fire protection. The increase is expected to bring in $7.6 million in additional revenue.

 

It is important that we have adequately staffed police and fire departments, but there are other ways to pay for them. One is to quit over-paying current police and firefighters.  There were 87 firefighters on the payroll for all of 2010 and 38 of them made over $70,000 (actual earnings, not salary). The average was $66,596. The average for the 151 police officers was $60,327.

 

These are dangerous jobs, but basing pay rates on factors such as exposure to hazards is the wrong way to do it. Every little boy and quite a few little girls want to grow up to be police or firemen, and not because of the pay. Do we really have to pay $60-70,000 to get qualified public safety officers? And does it make sense to reward them for staying on the job with longevity payments and then offer fat pensions to entice them to leave after only 25 years?