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Ishihara: Fire Pension Fund has been taking steps for years

In response to the News-Journal editorial published Wednesday, I wanted to outline the many steps that the City of Longview and the Longview Fire Department have taken as partners to improve the status (and lower the unfunded liability) of the Fire Pension Fund. It is not accurate to say that the city should now consider taking the “first step,” as that “first step” was foreseen and taken in 2012 with many steps to follow, including adding more than $500,000 annually to the city’s contribution to the Fund.

In 2012, the Fire Pension Board met with the city manager and together outlined a multi-step plan to improve the fund with actions from both the city and the fire department. These actions included increasing funding from both the city and the firefighters and changes to the pension benefits that are voted on by the firefighter members of the fund that voluntarily reduced their pension benefits. These steps are summarized here:

■ October, 2012, the City of Longview increased its contribution from 15% to 16% ($114,575 ongoing budget increase);

■ January, 2013, the fire department voted to change the average salary assumptions from highest 36 consecutive months to highest 60 consecutive months, voluntarily reducing their pension payments;

■ May, 2015, the City of Longview increased its contribution from 16% to 17% ($123,505 ongoing budget increase);

■ May, 2015, the fire department voted to remove the spousal benefit from the Pension and implement an annuity option for members that does not impact the Fund;

■ January, 2016, the fire department voted to increase current employee contributions from 15% to 16% and created a Tier 2 benefit plan for new hires that changed retirement age from 50 to 55 and multiplier from 4% to 3% significantly reducing future obligations of the fund;

■ January, 2017, the fire department voted to increase Tier 1 employee contributions from 16% to 17%;

■ October, 2017, the City of Longview increased its contribution from 17% to 18% ($129,865 ongoing budget increase);

■ October, 2018, the City of Longview increased its contribution from 18% to 19% ($133,376 ongoing budget increase).

These positive steps in the right direction have caused the fire pension to lower its unfunded liability in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017. In 2018, due to actuarial assumption changes to mortality tables and decreasing the investment return assumption, in addition to a bad market year, the pension did see its unfunded liability number increase. However, it is important to not overreact to this news. The market was down in 2018 for everyone and the Fire Pension Fund did better than most, being down 3% while the overall market was down 4% or greater for the year.

In summary, the City of Longview, in tandem with the Longview Fire Department and its employees have been diligently working on improving the status of the Fire Pension Fund for over five years. That is a reality and a commitment we take seriously to our first responders because they take their commitment to us seriously. The city has not been waiting to take the “first steps” in addressing the Fire Pension Fund. We have diligently been making strides for years and will continue to do so. I have served as the City Council liaison to the Fire Pension Fund since taking office in 2014 and am proud of the work that has taken place and proud to serve alongside the other Pension Fund Board members as we support our first responders.

— Kristen Ishihara, a Longview attorney, represents District 4 on the Longview City Council.

Today's Bible verse

“O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

Psalms 63:1

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