Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman surprised many people by taking on reform of the Police & Fire Disability and Retirement System during his spring reelection campaign. The commissioner spoke at both the East Portland Chamber of Commerce, and Parkrose Business Association promoting this measure …
Ken Turner, Governmental Affairs chair of East Portland Chamber of Commerce introduces Portland Commissioner Dan Saltzman at last week’s “Good Morning East Portland” networking meeting.
Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman has been barnstorming East Portland, asking voters to support a reform of the Police & Fire Disability and Retirement System.
Earlier this year, Saltzman surprised many people by taking on reform of the Police & Fire Disability and Retirement at the same time he was running for reelection. In February, we asked Saltzman why he’d take on an issue that, in the past has been a “campaign killer” for other elected city officials.
“I’m doing what I think is the right thing to do,” Saltzman told us back then, “for both the taxpayers and the welfare for police and firefighters. If the pension goes bust, everyone’s going to be left holding the bag. And I mean everyone ‚Äì our public safety workers and citizens. It is the fiscally-responsible thing to do.”
Portland Commissioner Dan Saltzman, here telling why he urges everyone to vote for Measure 26-68.
Solving a $1.64 Billion dollar problem
Working with a blue-ribbon panel, Saltzman and his staff have been working to find a way to start retiring a $1.6 Billion dollar unfunded liability in retirement fund. He credited Jeff Cogan, his chief-of-staff for managing the process.
“This unfunded liability can literally swallow the city’s entire budget,” he told members of the East Portland Chamber of Commerce on October 18.
“What this means,” Saltzman continued, “is that the city has an obligation to pay this amount of money, but we don’t have the money to pay. If there were a rash of police or fire bureau retirements, or if because of a massive disaster our public safety works experienced a catastrophic loss, we couldn’t pay it.”
In addition to having this massive obligation hanging over the city’s head, the commissioner stated, it also lowers the Bond Rating for Portland. “This makes it more expensive for the city to borrow money.”
Vote required to change city charter
Changing our public safety retirement and disability system requires a change in the Portland City Charter, Saltzman explained.
If Measure 26-86 is passed by voters at the November election, then, starting Jan 1, newly hired workers will go into the state-wide PERS retirement system. “If we don’t do this, our obligation will balloon to $8 billion dollars within 40 years. Instead, as people on the current system retire, our obligation will diminish over time.”
Fixes ‘broken’ disability system
“When it comes to awarding disability payments,” Saltzman continued, “there have been some questionable decisions. Some workers, who don’t appear to be disabled, are ‘gaming’ the system. Now, there is a 99% disability approval rate.”
Because the current disability board is composed of active or retired police officers or firefighters, “we have, in essence, the fox guarding the henhouse.”
The board will be revamped from 11 members down to five. Their role will be to make policy, not make disability decisions, Saltzman added. “Instead, an evaluation of each claim will be made by an expert in the area.”
Unions, city agree to new plan
“These are dramatic changes,” said the commissioner. “The entire city council supports this measure.” Saltzman then quoted Mayor Tom Potter, “Police and fire representatives are supporting this measure in their own way.”
Dan Saltzman says he’s most concerned that this measure will get “lost in the background”, with so many measures on the ballot.
Measure to indirectly increases taxes for 26 years
Asked about the tax impact of the measure on citizens, Saltzman said homeowners will see their property taxes increase for the next twenty years, as existing pensions for retired police and firefighters are paid off. “Then, taxes will taper off. But, remember, in 40 years, our obligations will be paid off, and our public safety workers will have their pensions assured.
While there isn’t any opposition to the measure, “Our biggest concern is that this measure doesn’t get lost among the other measures on the ballot,” Saltzman concluded.
Web Only Extra: Chamber members mix things up at Vino Vixens
Erin Marie, owner of Vino Vixens and Sun Kiss Spa and Tanning hosts a fun East Portland Chamber of Commerce evening event.
On October 17, Wine flowed; guests noshed on cheese, shrimp and antipasto at a special East Portland Chamber of Commerce evening event.
“Vino Vixens is a unique wine bar with an intimate setting,” Marie told us. “This is the perfect spot to hold informal gatherings. And, Sun Kiss Spa offers a full line of treatments. Come see us!
To learn more about this great group, or her two businesses, go to www.eastportlandchamber.com.
¬© 2006 David F. Ashton ~ East PDX News