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Westporters Fear Loss of Quality Employees, Teachers With New Pension Plan

Representative Town Meeting (RTM) members voted Tuesday night against two motions to postpone a vote to approve a pension plan for new town employees after acting Board of Education Chair James Marpe requested more time.

 

Concerns of losing quality employees to neighboring towns were brought up at Tuesday night's RTM meeting at Westport Town Hall prior to a vote to approve a defined employee contribution retirement plan for new employees that will require the town of Westport to contribute less than the pension plans in many surrounding towns. 

The plan initially called for a seven percent flat defined contribution plan for new town employees where the town would match seven percent, but the plan was modified so the town will only have to match a maximum of five percent on each new employees retirement plan.

Two motions were made during the meeting to extend the vote for two weeks and four weeks after acting Board of Education Chair James Marpe requested more time in order to ensure Westport made the right decision for its employees. RTM members voted against the two motions to postpone the vote.

“The Board of Education strongly supports the town's efforts to develop a defined contribution pension plan as a means to establish a more sustainable employee benefit cost structure over the long term and to more effectively and transparently manage the associated tax payer funds,” Marpe said. “With over 300 Board of Education employees covered by the town’s pension plans, we have a very vested interest in making sure we get this right.”

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Marpe requested the RTM defer action until the Board of Education had an opportunity to work with an appropriate actuarial or pension consulting firm.

“We want to make sure we’ve got it right,” he said.

Westport Finance Director Gary Conrad pointed out that out of the 50 towns in the Connecticut employee pension study, the average number a town matched in 2011 was 6.8 percent.

In Fairfield County, Wilton matched a minimum of five percent and a maximum of nine percent. Fairfield matched a minimum of four percent and a maximum of six percent. Greenwich matched a minimum and maximum of five percent, according to RTM Finance Committee Chair Jeff Wieser. The plan was approved, which puts Westport at a minimum contribution of 3.5 percent and a maximum of five percent.

RTM member Gilbert Nathan was not concerned about contribution plans in other towns, though.

“We are trying to be on the forefront here. We want people to follow Westport’s example,” Nathan said. “It doesn’t really matter what everyone else is doing. It matters what we’re doing.”

RTM member John Klinge said he was not comfortable with what he called a “rush to judgment.”

“I’m not sure it's right. I want our plan to be fair. I want it to be competitive with neighboring communities," Klinge said. "I don’t want to lose quality, key employees to a neighboring town due to an inferior defined contribution plan."

The plan allows for employees to contribute a minimum of 3.5 percent, which the town will match. They can also contribute another 1.5 percent to their pension plan to bring it up to a total of five percent that the town will match, which is the maximum an employee can contribute. 

“There was general agreement that a 3.5 percent floor is a good thing in a defined contribution plan because it kind of forces everyone to recognize that they should be saving for their retirement,” Wieser said of the RTM Finance Committee's opinion.

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