We congratulate the Georgetown Fire Protection District board and employees for agreeing to a much improved employment agreement.
The Georgetown fire department, in recognition of the financial realities of the current economy, has dialed back on the overgenerous pensions firefighters and other safety personnel have been receiving.
Current firefighters can retire at 50 with a 3 percent formula, which means they will get 90 percent of their pay after 30 years of service.
Georgetown is changing that for new firefighters to 2 percent at 55, which means they would have to work 45 years to attain 90 percent of their pay in retirement. The retirement pay will be based on the average of their final three years.
Non-safety members of the Georgetown fire department will get 2 percent at 60 under the new contract approved by the board March 20.
This is more in line with what other local government workers are receiving. While it makes sense for firefighters to retire before 60 as their strength and stamina decline, we are pleased to see the Georgetown district peg the retirement age at 55 rather than 50. People are staying healthy and strong much longer. A 55-year-old firefighter is more than likely a battalion commander and less likely to be running in and out of burning buildings or jumping around from roof to roof, not that they couldn’t.
Furthermore older firefighters have more experience with emergency medical situations and are more likely to be highly experienced medics. We think 55 is a more reasonable retirement age for safety personnel, including law enforcement officers.
The Georgetown board recognized the public money train has left the station and isn’t coming back. Georgetown has set down a marker for the other fire districts to follow.
We urge other boards to start getting realistic about pay levels for firefighters. Firefighters, law enforcement and prison guards are among the some of the highest paying jobs that only require a high school diploma. Certainly the jobs involve risk, and they are compensated accordingly, but the days of overgenerous pension formulas are past. The public support for those high-cost pension formulas is gone.
And the public expects employees to contribute more toward these guaranteed pensions.
The Georgetown board stuck to its guns on the 2 percent at 55 formula, but promised to review the agreement annually. Our viewpoint is the only thing that should be reviewed annually is how much the employees are contributing toward their pensions and medical plans.
Again, congratulations to the Georgetown fire board and let’s see some similar action from other fire boards or some new board candidates who are willing to make the tough decisions.