Mehlville fire board offers early retirement incentive after dismissal of pension suit upheld

‘Absolute last time’ incentives will be offered, chairman says

By MIKE ANTHONY

A resolution offering early retirement incentives to Mehlville Fire Protection District employees with 15 or more years of service was unanimously approved last week by the district’s Board of Directors.

The board’s action came two days after an appellate court affirmed a lower court’s ruling dismissing a lawsuit filed against the Board of Directors by Local 1889 of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

Union employees’ request for a permanent injunction prohibiting the Board of Directors from changing the district’s pension plan to a defined-contribution plan from a defined-benefit plan was denied Aug. 27, 2007, by St. Louis County Circuit Court Judge Thea A. Sherry.

On Dec. 24, 2007, Sherry denied union employees’ motion for a new trial, but granted their motion for an injunction pending appeal that prohibited the board from making any changes to the district’s pension plan. Local 1889 filed the lawsuit in March 2006, just days after the Board of Directors voted on March 16, 2006, to adopt an amendment and two resolutions changing the pension plan from a defined-benefit plan to a defined-contribution plan.

Oral arguments were conducted Dec. 9 before a three-judge panel of the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals.

In a Dec. 16 decision, Sherry’s dismissal of the lawsuit was affirmed.

The resolution offering the early retirement incentives to qualified employees was approved Dec. 18 by the Board of Directors.

The early retirement incentives will be offered only to the first 10 employees with 15 years or more of service who retire before Dec. 30. Participating employees will receive a $20,000 retirement bonus, an additional $1,000 for each year of service and will retire under the defined-benefit plan.

In addition, retirees will be allowed to purchase health insurance from the district.

Board of Directors Chairman Aaron Hilmer told the Call that this will be the last time the board will offer early retirement incentives to employees.

“… This will be the absolute last time the district ever offers one of these,” he said. “It was in mind of people who were near retirement age under the existing defined-benefit plan. If they felt that was more advantageous for them to leave at this point, then we really thought the right thing to do was give them this opportunity.”