Dallas Police Chief David Brown pulls no punches, because, at this point, he simply cannot afford to.
And, said Brown, the younger officers on the force have no idea how serious this problem is.
“Millennials don’t think about pensions,” he told the council Tuesday during its annual retreat at Dallas Love Field. “Who’s calling and who’s concerned are the people close to retirement or those who have retired. The 20-something cop isn’t thinking about this, doesn’t understand this.”
And, he said, when they do hear that their retirement money is in danger of disappearing, “they get pissed about it.”
But for now, said Brown, “I’m not sure how concerned I should be. I know this council wants to find a solution.”
The Dallas City Council spent an hour Tuesday afternoon discussing possible solutions. It was presented with several options — everything from asking rescue workers to increase their contributions to the fund to asking the state Legislature for a rewrite of the pension fund to asking voters to approve a pension obligation bond that would put the city on the hook for a large chunk of the unfunded obligations.
Taxpayers could also be asked to increase their annual contribution to the fund, which stands now at around $110 million. But the way the law’s written, the increase wouldn’t be much relative to the need — maybe another $10 million a year, which wouldn’t go very far.
The list of options is long, the fund’s executive director, Kelly Gottschalk, said after the briefing. And it’s being discussed by the fund’s board and throughout Dallas City Hall on a regular basis.
But the clock is also ticking: By mid-summer the council could be asked to vote on a solution. Between now and then the pension fund’s board, its membership and the city council will have a better idea about the shape of the fund, but not the whole picture. That worries some on the council, who don’t want to OK a change without knowing whether the Legislature will get involved.
“We can’t just sit back,” Dallas City Manager A.C. Gonzalez told the council. “The timetable is right upon us. Around the corner is right about now in terms of coming to grips with this.”
Philip Kingston, one of four council members on the pension fund’s board, has recommended trimming officers’ cost of living adjustment; he believes that will cut the problem in half. But Gottschalk said it’s not that simple over the long haul.
There’s a reason Rawlings calls it “the pension fund gorilla” in need of being “wrestled to the ground.”
Rawlings, Brown and Gonzalez could agree on one thing: Young officers and firefighters need to be informed immediately, either through social media or small meetings, that their retirement fund is in trouble.
“The fix is going to hurt everybody,” Brown said. “They have not heard that message.”