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Town Firefighters Want To Set The Record Straight

Montclair FMBA Local 20 puts forth facts on pension and health benefits—and its community involvement efforts

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.

Pensions:

—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.

Medical Benefits:

—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.

Paine April 25, 2012 at 03:24 PM
It bothers me that nearly all our elected officials raided or underfunded the various state pension systems and then made the union members fix it. That kind of leadership should never be re-elected. And, I'm not a union member.
Right of Center April 25, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Which Record needed to be "set straight"? Which articles misstated facts?
Shelley Emling (Editor) April 25, 2012 at 03:56 PM
I believe they are referring to comments made related to the article this week on the candidates' debate...
Kyle Martinowich April 25, 2012 at 03:58 PM
"—Fire Department members DO pay into their health benefit premiums. We contribute at a rate that is comparable to the “average” private employee. If you are setting the record straight, as you stated, then give the exact % as you did for the pensions. What is the Rate??????? "—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." The Governor is only one part of the NJ State Government. Is the Legislature not also responsible for inaction? Did your premiums rise only in the past 3 years? At best this statement is disingenuous!
Drew P. Baulsz April 25, 2012 at 04:12 PM
30% of the premium. It's being phased in over 3 years by the governor. Roughly 10 now, doubles in June and then up to 30.
Drew P. Baulsz April 25, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Kyle considering they were 0% a year ago... You'll be seeing a 30% savings for the town. Nothing will be good enough, i know. But those are the numbers. Going forward it's a pretty large savings for the town. And a decrease in salary for us, but a necessary evil. We know that. That's not looking for sympathy either, I am very aware the times we live in and what people are going through.
Kyle Martinowich April 25, 2012 at 04:25 PM
"by the governor" So i guess the NJ State Legislature did not have to pass the Health And Pension reforms before being signed into law by the Governor? Again with the disingenuous statements! http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2011/06/details_of_nj_public_worker_pe.html From the first sentence: "Gov. Chris Christie and legislative leaders have struck a deal to overhaul public worker pensions and health benefits, a plan that was approved by a Senate committee Thursday and is expected to move in both houses next week."
Kyle Martinowich April 25, 2012 at 04:38 PM
"Nothing will be good enough, i know." Great ssumption. Why not go to the extreme and make the MFD Voluntary!
Hector April 25, 2012 at 04:49 PM
Article doesn't mention any of the concessions given to the town. One would be although protected by the contract offered by the town, the one accepted as offered because things were bad, the FMBA started to pay for health benefits a almost a year before required. Big suprise the town magically "found" extra money afterwards. Big bad unions are the problem.
John Adams April 25, 2012 at 09:56 PM
Work 365 days a year. Thats pretty funny. What do you work 3 on and get 4 off or something of that nature? And the times when there isnt fires, your sitting around playing cards or sleeping or whatever you choose to be doing while getting paid. Its almost a vacation job. Yes, you deserve to be paid, but Im sick and tired of firefighters and police acting like there job is more gratifying than the average person. Yes, you put your life on the line when theres a fire once every 100-200 days but thats your job, thats what you signed up to do. Why must you feel the need to throw that in peoples faces. I work the Path and put my life in the line every single day, not when Im called once on a blue moon just for people to get to and from work but you dont hear me bragging about it constantly
Kathy April 26, 2012 at 12:25 PM
Fire and police personnel do perform dangerous jobs and i am very grateful for all they do for the township. I am also very pleased for their response to the candidates' statements because i think this article clears up many misconceptions. However one of the camndidates' statements spoke to the layers of supervisory personnel. If there are misconceptions in that statement, i would love for it to be explained.
Dan April 26, 2012 at 01:04 PM
My father is a retired NYC officer, and the benefits he has enjoyed for over 30 years of retirement are a deserving benefit. However, when the statement is made that "The PFRS is mainly funded by local municipalities and member contributions." The fact is that 92.9% is funded by the employer (taxpayer). A 10% contribution rate is the least you should be paying. It is a bargain considering the lifetime defined benefit pension. "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." It's called the windfall provision, and it prevents you from completely double-dipping. And the fact that you'll only get 75% of the benefit isn't that "drastic". With that said, I respect what they do for a living, but fiscal pain must be shared.
grewupinmtc April 26, 2012 at 01:17 PM
Kathy the reason why there is a 2-1 ratio of F/Fs to Officers is because the FD is understaffed and the Officers are not only in a supervisory postion they are also the 2nd F/F working as a team. There are only 3 F/F on an engine or truck. The drivers have outside responsibilities like operating the pump or the aerial ladder on the truck. The Officer is either the 2nd F/F on the hose line or is the 2nd search and rescue F/F searching for the fire or trapped victims. As far as the FD is concerned maybe the town should be looking at MSU for funding. They are only getting bigger and we repond to MSU at least once a week. When MFD responds to MSU all but the southend engine responds, that leaves most of the town unprotected, and if something should happen in the south end there is only one engine until everyone can repond from MSU, and that can take a long time depending on the time of day.
grewupinmtc April 26, 2012 at 01:19 PM
Kyle what is stopping you from volunteering?
Kevin April 26, 2012 at 01:21 PM
In my opinion, it is within our right to question the costs, benefits and structure of our police and fire departments however it crosses the line to disparage the jobs. As the saying goes, "Hours of boredom and moments of terror."
Kathy April 26, 2012 at 01:26 PM
Thanks grewupinmtc, i appreciate your response. And i do think shared services should be looked at more thoroughly although i don't think the newest contract with Glen Ridge makes fiscal sense. Regional fire/police could make sense, yet i'm not sure we could have an unemotional conversation about it, yet the savings would come from the supervisory levels. I think people who live in a town have to fundamentally decide what is important to them - police, fire and education top my list. We should look for efficiencies but i don't believe it should he on the backs of the front line workers
tryintosurvive April 26, 2012 at 01:34 PM
And along with police, fire and eductaion of course sanitation, parks and rec, parking, administrative staff. etc. All should be protected and enjoy pensions and benefits paid for by the taxpayers. No salaries should be reduced, no management staff should be reduced, no benefits should be reduced for anyone. All is lovely in this utopia. That is the leadership that we need. Now about those bike lanes and trips to China.....
E A D April 26, 2012 at 01:57 PM
John Adams ur a weak broke old frustrated ku...nt...
frank rubacky April 26, 2012 at 02:28 PM
Grewupinmtc, We used to have 4 on a truck and 3 on an engine. When did this change? Can you put a number on how many of these weekly calls are false alarms? Resident pay a hefty fee for their false alarms. Lastly, your MSU point is valid from both a protection issue and a financial pov. An emerging trend is cities negotiating PILOT agreements from colleges and universities to offset the growing public safety costs. Providence, RI is one such city trying to obtain PILOT payments. The candidates have not weighed in overall on introducing more fees for services, but where we are providing services not covered by property taxes seems a logical place to start the discussion.
grewupinmtc April 26, 2012 at 03:06 PM
Frank we don't know its a false alarm until we get there. Is burned popcorn in the microwave, steam from a shower, student smoking in their room, or someone setting fires in trash cans a false alarm. If we start sending just one engine up there because we "think" its a false alarm and it turns out to be something more serious then we're all screwed. We assume every alarm is the real thing until our units can confirm otherwise. The last thing we want is a repeat of Seton Hall. They had 8 F/Fs responding to the intial bell and one was the tour chief. We all know how that ended. Maybe MSU could finance a 4 person crew and house them on campus that could be part of the intial response so each town (Clifton MTC and littlefalls) could hold back and engine or truck when responding and when its confirmed a false alram we can be called off sooner .
frank rubacky April 26, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Sorry, I wasn't clear. Of course I agree for the need to respond. No question. I was just wondering how many trips involved responding to a an actual fire condition versus an alarm event?
grewupinmtc April 26, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Frank I don't know
tryintosurvive April 26, 2012 at 03:40 PM
Does Little Falls respond as well? Their Great Notch firehouse is probably the closest to the MSU campus.
grewupinmtc April 26, 2012 at 03:49 PM
Tryinto the employees also pay into the pension and they are also tax payers, and our pay has been reduced, our benifits reduced, higher copays, and increased pension costs. Our management staff has been reduced, fire prevention has been reduced along with an added work load because of cuts in other departments in town. I really don't get the anger that is directed towards the FD, we are here to help you and not just for fire fighting. If your like Kyle and think a volunteer FD is better, good luck getting that started, and don't think a volunteer department will respond to all the types of call that a paid department will.
grewupinmtc April 26, 2012 at 03:57 PM
on the first Bell Cliftom MTC and Little falls only respond to thier section of MSU. Remeber Little falls is volunteer so thier response time is a lot longer.
grewupinmtc April 26, 2012 at 03:58 PM
uncalled for ^
Jeff Jacobson April 26, 2012 at 04:11 PM
When I was working on public safety issues at the University of Pennsylvania, fire coverage by the Philadelphia Fire Department was a huge issue. Penn, like Montclair State, is tax exempt, but it was a rare day when the PFD didn't have to respond to something on campus. It took a lot of negotiating, with Penn taking the position that its 100+ campus police officers constituted a massive contribution to neighborhood safety and security, but Penn ultimately agreed to make a substantial PILOT payment to the City. Negotiations with Montclair State in the next Council over this and other issues are a must. As someone who grew up in South Orange, I also take the "we don't want another Seton Hall" comment very much to heart.
frank rubacky April 26, 2012 at 04:43 PM
Thank you. BTW, is this Mr Hurlock's and the rest of your slate's position. Just want to be clear.
Gunny April 27, 2012 at 03:27 AM
I do have a question that needs answering? 30 years ago no body wanted these jobs. The salary was crap, and you were lucky if 100 people showed up to take these tests. The town of Montclair use to hire only town residents. Times have changed, and not for the better. Our Emergency Service Employees ( Police and Fire ) should be applauded and rewarded WITHOUT QUESTION. While most of us sleep comfortably at night and are home with our families on the holidays, they are not. Stop blaming the very people who protect us, for bad management, and horrific leadership. We all had the same opportunity to take these exams. And John Adams, YES they do work 365 days a year. A cop or firefighter is constantly on duty. They take an oath to protect us. Try standing by YOUR word someday.
Gunny April 27, 2012 at 03:32 AM
And I personally owe a town firefighter a debt of gratitude for saving my family from a carbon monoxide leak, of which I assumed was a bad battery in a smoke detector. To them I am eternally grateful.

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