Members of the Minneapolis fire pension fund overwhelmingly have voted to merge with a statewide public safety fund.

The vote is the first step in a merger process authorized by the 2011 Legislature. But the new law makes the fire merger contingent on a similar merger approval by members of a city police pension fund. The results of the police referendum on that are expected to be announced this week.

A merger would boost Mayor R.T. Rybak's strategy for lowering the city's pension costs, achieving a $17 million cost reduction in 2012 alone. It would save the city money by allowing the use of different state assumptions about how to calculate pension costs, as well as allowing those costs to be spread over a longer period.

Executive Secretary Wally Schirmer said members of the Minneapolis Firefighters Relief Association voted by a margin of about 11 to 1 for merger. Most of the "no" votes came from members who didn't vote, he said; their votes counted against merger.

The pension fund incorporated in 1886, but has roots dating back to 1868, shortly after Minneapolis became a city. The fund was closed to newly hired firefighters in mid-1980; younger firefighters joined the public safety pension fund of the statewide Public Employees Retirement Association, into which the city fund would merge. Both the City Council and the state fund's board must approve merger, but those votes are considered a formality.

All but of a handful of the fund's members have retired, and their age played a role in the decision, Schirmer said. Both fire and police members have been locked in years-old litigation with the city over how to properly calculate pension levels. "We don't want to deal with this anymore," he said.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438