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HB police pension plan discussion continues

By Rick Catlin, Islander Reporter

Holmes Beach Commissioner Al Robinson had difficulty at the city’s June 14 public hearing understanding why the police pension board was proposing changes to the retirement plan when it appeared to him that no one would benefit from the proposals.

At the hearing, Robinson asked Holmes Beach Police Lt. Dale Stephenson, the department’s representative on the pension board, “Why are we here?” if there is no gain for anyone.

The pension plan change, called the Deferred Retirement Option Plan, or DROP, includes criteria for officers to take their retirement fund early, but continue working for another five years.

Stephenson said the DROP allows a police officer to drop out of the current pension plan, receive his retirement funds in a plan of his choosing and continue working for the city. An officer electing the DROP does not receive a lump sum in cash, but rather it is transferred into an investment account of the officer’s choosing. The city no longer would fund that officer’s pension.

That still didn’t sound like a benefit, Robinson said, and asked Stephenson how he personally would benefit from the DROP.

Stephenson said the benefit for him would be a few hundred dollars a month, but explaining how the DROP worked to benefit an individual officer is difficult because each officer’s pension plan differs.

City attorney Patricia Petruff told Robinson and commissioners, “It is confusing.”

Mayor Rich Bohnenberger summed it up best when he said that if an officer elects the plan, “We get his services for another five years at 29 percent less” than what the officer currently costs the city.

That’s because the city would no longer fund its share of the officer’s pension. This saves Holmes Beach that percent of salary the city currently pays into an officer’s retirement fund, the mayor said.

Stephenson said after the meeting he was just answering Robinson’s question on what he personally would gain if he elected to enter the program, and his answers were not an indication that he is entering the plan. The plan just gives each officer a choice and they must retire from the department five years after entering the DROP.

Commissioners eliminated the “sick bank” option for officers in the drop plan.

Commission Chair Sandy Haas-Martens said that once an officer enters the drop plan and is paid for unused sick days, he or she shouldn’t be able to go back to the sick bank and borrow sick days from an officer not in the drop plan.

Other commissioners agreed, and Petruff said she would rewrite the proposed pension ordinance to eliminate the sick-bank option.

The commission continued the public hearing to 7 p.m. July 12.

In other business, commissioners received an update from state Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, on legislative activity.

A new law on vacation rentals requires that if a city did not already have a minimum-stay requirement for vacation rentals, it can’t proceed with such an ordinance. The Holmes Beach ordinance that requires a minimum seven-day stay in some zones is grandfathered, Boyd said.

The legislation prohibits Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach, where one-night home rentals are allowed, from passing an ordinance in the future that would increase the rental period.

Boyd also updated commissioners on beach renourishment funding. Beach renourishment funds are in the upcoming state budget, but not at the amount Florida beach communities requested.

“Everyone suffered in the budget, but nobody wanted their deal cut completely,” he said.

Boyd also told commissioners that Florida is the leading state for personal injury protection auto insurance fraud and, if fraud continues to climb at its present rate, PIP auto insurance rates also will rise.

Florida auto insurance companies were defrauded out of about $990 million in the state last year because of unscrupulous lawyers and chiropractors, Boyd said. However, his proposal to halt legislation that would place a $40 to $50 fraud tax on auto insurance policies was defeated in committee, he said.

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