Fred DeSantis is not impressed, to say the least, with a local Republican's pension-reform proposal.

"It's terrible," the president of the York Professional Firefighters Association said Tuesday when he was asked about his thoughts on state Rep. Seth Grove's idea.

Politicians like Grove, R-Dover, don't seem to understand that unionized municipal employees like York City firefighters aren't eligible for Social Security, DeSantis said.

"Our guys are risking their lives for their pension," he said. "And these guys are sitting behind a desk trying to take money out of our pockets that we worked hard for."

At a press conference Monday in York, Grove said he'll introduce legislation this week that aims to preserve the retirement plans for police, firefighters, and other municipal workers while keeping cities, boroughs and townships financially solvent as they struggle to keep pace with escalating costs.

If passed, the law would create a new system under which new hires would switch to a hybrid plan that allows existing pension liabilities to be paid down with interest from the new investments.

Current employees would retain existing benefit levels, but those benefits would be frozen at their current rates and not subject to increase during future union bargaining agreements, Grove said.


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DeSantis, however, said financial problems like York City's stem not from pension obligations but from a failure to properly manage municipal budgets.

Instead of keeping pension funds up to date, officials "spend the money elsewhere," DeSantis said.

He pointed to York City's five-year habit of delaying payment of its minimum municipal obligation - an annual execution of a long-ago commitment to support retired employees - rather than run out of cash and risk legal action from lenders who can actually sue.

York City's firefighter and police pension funds are "moderately distressed," and a third of Pennsylvania's local-government retirement plans are financially distressed, according to a report issued last September by then Auditor General Jack Wagner.

The city's police pension is funded at only 55 percent of the plan's total liabilities, while the firefighter pension is funded at 60 percent.

DeSantis said compromise is possible. But, he said, it should be done on the local level during contract negotiations - not through state mandates.

York City Police Officer Mike Davis, president of the department's union, said it's too early to have formed an opinion on Grove's proposal, which has yet to be assigned a bill number and published on the state House website.

No matter what, Davis said, municipal union workers should be included in the conversation. "I don't like the idea of them just dictating to us what they want to change without bargaining with us," he said.

- Erin James may also be reached at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.