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Hollywood Voters Approve Pension Reform

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HOLLYWOOD (CBS4) – Voters in Hollywood have spoken — they want pension reform for city employees.

The decision means hundreds of city workers — including police and firemen — will see significant changes to their pension plans, including having to work more years before they can retire with a full pension and seeing less money in their pensions.

It also means the city will save $8.5 million dollars, a crucial step in the city’s plan to fill a $38 million dollar budget gap.

Interim City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark praised the decision by voters.

“We could not longer afford to take care of sidewalks, take care of trees, take care of lighting — quality of life for our residents and our whole community,” she said. “This allows us a much more affordable pension.”

According to the city, the changes mean that police officers and firefighters will not be able to retire with full benefits until they are between 52 and 55 years old. City employees will have to wait until they are 60-65 years old.

The city said the changes preserve what workers have earned and only changes their pension formulas going forward. It also grandfathers in workers with 10 years or more of experience.

Swanson-Rivenbark said what’s happening in Hollywood is being watched closely by other cities, as they grapple with similar concerns over spiraling pension and benefit costs.

“Several of them have been following what’s going on in Hollywood,” she told reporters.

Hollywood police, firefighters and city workers watched the results of the special election come in Tuesday night. They were not pleased with the outcome.

Broward County Police Benevolent Association Vice President Jeffrey Marano said he expects quality officers to leave

“You’re crazy not to go to another city,” Marano told CBS 4 News. “It just makes sense to go to another city that’s more stable, doesn’t mismanage money and at least recognizes their men and women in law enforcement.”

Fire Union President Dan Martinez said the changes will be difficult for firefighters who were nearing retirement.

“With the benefits (the city is) imposing, (firefighters near retirement) are gonna have to risk their lives for another 3 years before they can retire,” Martinez said. “It’s gonna be devastating for them.”

Only 14% of the city’s registered turned out to vote Tuesday — that’s 11,868 voters. Voters approved cuts to both police and fire pensions by a 55-45 margin. Voters approved cutting city workers pensions by a 58-42 percentage.

Firefighters and police officers campaigned outside polling places trying to convince voters to vote against the pension reform. Christine Shembeda supported their position.

“I work in technology,” Shembeda said. “I’m not risking my life every time I do my job so I do respect the job that they do and I do feel that they need to keep their pension plan in place.”

Resident Tibor Stern said the pension plans are too expensive.

“I have to retire at age 65 like everybody else,” he said. “There is no reason for a city employee to retire at age 50.”

Other residents worried that if the pension plans were not cut, homeowners would face a steep hike in property taxes.

The city argued that pension costs have risen more than 300 percent in the past 8 years and were eating up a huge chunk of the city’s budget.

“It’s recommended that cities don’t spend more than 10 percent of their total budget on pensions,” she said. “We were over 25-26 percent.”

Union leaders for police and fire say they are considering their legal options.

The pension cuts are only one part of the city’s plan to fill a 38 million dollar budget shortfall.

The city tentatively agreed Monday to raise property taxes and fees and continue salary cuts for city workers that were enacted this year.

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