This was submitted by Montclair FMBA Local 20:
In light of the recent articles written about pensions and health benefits for public employees, the Montclair Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association felt compelled to try and correct some misconceptions about the benefits our members receive.
Our members are hard working, middle class citizens who—like everyone else—pay for taxes, mortgages, food, gasoline, utilities, and anything else that is required to live in today’s society. These costs have risen dramatically for us as well as for you. We perform an inherently dangerous job 365 days a year, with professionalism and distinction.
We face higher divorce rates, higher suicide rates, and we die earlier than the average employee. Our retirement benefits reflect the nature of the risks associated with public safety.
Whether you agree with any of this or not is up to you, but we would like to try and clear the air in regards to pension and health benefits.
—There are at least seven different public pension systems in New Jersey. Police and Firefighters are enrolled in the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System or PFRS. These pensions are funded at different levels and by different agencies. The PFRS is mainly funded by local municipalities and member contributions.
—PFRS Pensions are calculated on base pay alone. Any misconceptions about pension “padding” are false. Overtime is NOT included in pension calculations. PFRS members cannot tack on jobs and salaries to get a higher pension.
—PFRS members contribute 10% of their annual salaries towards the pension which is the highest contribution of all pensions in New Jersey.
—As the recipient of a public pension, a PFRS member is not entitled to Social Security benefits. The Township of Montclair does not have to pay for them either. If a PFRS member does have the necessary quarters from previous employment or from work on the side to receive Social Security benefits, they are drastically reduced.
—In the late 1990s, the PFRS was 104% funded. Governor Whitman “borrowed” millions of dollars from the system and then allowed the municipalities to skip their required payments. At the height of this pension “holiday” between 2001 and 2004, local governments contributed only 12% of their required payments and since 2008 have skipped on nearly 650 million dollars. The resulting consequence of this shortsightedness is to blame the Firefighters and Police Officers for the system failing.
—PFRS members DID NOT receive the “9% pension increase” that was provided to some of the other pension systems.
—Firefighters and Police Officers have never skipped ONE payment towards their pensions and had no control over the decision by the state and/or the municipality to skip their required contributions.
—In spite of all of this, in the worst economy in a generation, the PFRS today is funded at 79.5%, when 72% is considered solvent. Had the system not been raided, and regular contributions been made, the PFRS would be funded near 100%. The burden of paying back what was skipped by the municipalities would have been unnecessary.
—Fire Department members DO pay into their health benefit premiums. We contribute at a rate that is comparable to the “average” private employee.
—Upon retirement a Montclair Fire Department member receives health benefits from the pension system, not the Montclair taxpayer. The member is afforded 80% of the cheapest plan for single coverage from the State Health Benefits program. This benefit terminates at 65 years of age when the retiree starts Medicare.
—The Township of Montclair is enrolled in the State Health Benefits program. This program covers thousands of employee’s state wide in an effort to lighten costs through economies of scale.
—Spiraling healthcare costs are beyond our control. The state has successfully shifted costs to employees, while no attempt has been made by our governor to make structural changes to the health insurance industry to slow the rate of premium increases.
In addition to the above, the firefighters would also like to highlight the union's community involvement:
Montclair’s firefighters are not just employees who collect a paycheck from the town. We are also partners in the community. Recognizing that our members live all over New Jersey, we make a conscious effort to be as involved in township activities as possible. We, as a union, are proud of our past accomplishments, and we look forward to our continuing support of local activities.
Here is a sample of some Montclair & Glen Ridge activities we have participated in:
—Participated with Montclair Police Officers in three separate charity basketball games to raise money to support residents in need. (Firefighters won them all...)
—Provide the gifts and Santa Claus for the townships Holiday Tree lighting and
business area tour.
—Support the Human Needs Food Pantry
—Support Toni’s Kitchen
—Support Project Graduation in both Montclair and Glen Ridge
—Support the Fourth of July Parade & Fireworks
—Support Montclair Recreation Little League
—Support the Montclair Cobras
—Support the MHS Gridiron Club
—Support the Immaculate Blue Lion Club
—Support the One Hundred Club of Montclair
—Support the Salvation Army
—Support Marines Care (Toys for Tots)
—Sponsor the Montclair YMCA 10K
—Sponsor the Ashenfelter 8K to benefit the Glen Ridge Educational Foundation
—Sponsor the Montclair 4 Miler to benefit the Junior League of Montclair
—Sponsor the National Cervical Cancer Coalition 5K from Just Jake's
—We work in Montclair 365 days a year and every single day we patronize local
business throughout the township. We rent space in Montclair for our meetings, retirement dinners, holiday parties, etc. We use Montclair vendors for Union business supplies, banking, etc.
—In addition, we have collected enough items from our members and from the community at large to load and fill TWO tractor-trailers with goods for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. A member’s brother then delivered them to Louisiana and Alabama—for free! We also raised over $60,000 for the Widows and Childrens Fund following 9/11, participated in numerous 5K races throughout the state to benefit burn victims, and provided aid to the victims of the earthquake in Haiti and the tsunami in Japan.