Three officers' OT is windfall for pensioners

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 30, 2008 - 11:30 PM

FEMA has refused to reimburse Minneapolis for $780,000 in pension costs that arose because of the officers' extra hours after the I-35W bridge collapse.

The 868 pensioners and survivors drawing benefits from Minneapolis' old police pension fund might want to thank officers Bruce Johnson, Mike Roberts and Terry Moses.

The three officers combined worked just more than 400 hours of overtime in the month after the Interstate 35W bridge collapse.

That's turned into a $780,000 windfall for pensioners under the formula for calculating pensions. But it's a $780,000 headache for city taxpayers.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has denied the city's claim that the ripple effect of the trio's overtime on police pensions should be included in reimbursements for bridge collapse costs.

So that means the pension burden will fall on city property taxpayers, barring a successful further appeal.

The pension cost represents the greatest share of the more than $900,000 in city claims still unreimbursed by the feds. The city also was denied reimbursement of $149,000 it paid St. Paul for its collapse response. It has been reimbursed nearly $3 million, but it claimed $3.9 million in collapse-related expenses.

The pension claim arises from the peculiarities of the Minneapolis Police Relief Association, which stopped taking new members in 1980. Newer officers belong to a statewide police and fire pension plan.

The old pension plan bases pension amounts on the total compensation of a top-grade patrol officer. That incudes base wages, plus a variety of fringe benefits including clothing and equipment allowance, vacation and sick leave payout, health club allowance and shift differential. One of those factors is overtime earnings, figured on a rolling average.

Because the fund had only 14 working members as of this month, and a number of them are in higher ranks than officer, the impact of overtime earned by the three officers ripples through the checks of pensioners. The overtime earned by most officers who responded to the collapse and belong to the statewide fund doesn't affect the city budget in the same way.

The city argued that because FEMA approved the overtime for officers responding to the emergency, it ought to cover pension costs arising from that overtime. FEMA approved reimbursement for officers in the new pension fund.

Moses, one of the three officers, did not actually work at the collapse site. Instead, because of the diversion of officers to the site, his workday back at the precinct jumped from eight to 12 hours.

"I know the city ain't happy when they have to pay more. But life is heck," he said. "If they're fighting the feds, that has nothing to do with me or my pension."

Roberts, another of the three, was indicted this month on corruption charges. He is accused of receiving $100 on two occasions for giving confidential information to an undercover informant who claimed to be a gang member. A 29-year veteran of the department, Roberts, 57, was relieved of duty in April after the allegations came to light.

Brian Rice, an attorney and lobbyist for the old fund, said he agrees with the city that it's reasonable to ask for federal pension reimbursement. He said that the fund's actuary could calculate the cost to buttress the city's case.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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