Base Increase Opposed By Mayor Fiorentini

SEPTEMBER 11, 2013: Last night, the Haverhill City Council tabled a request by the Haverhill Retirement Board that would have raised the cost-of-living base for its retirees.

The initiative, voted 3-2 by the Retirement Board, would have increased the base amount, which is currently $12,000, by $1,000 per year for each of the next three years, capping at $15,000 in 2016.

Mayor James Fiorentini opposed the measure, saying the proposal would cost the city $170,000 next year, almost $500,000 in the third year and $12 million by 2033. He said it would also increase the retirement system’s unfunded liability, which is already $163 million, by another $5 million.

Retirement Board member Lewis “Jerry” Poore, a retired Haverhill firefighter, said the mayor’s presentation was guesswork based on new actuarial figures the city obtained a few hours before last night’s meeting. “The mayor’s numbers aren’t real,” Poore told councilors.

Poore also disputed Fiorentini’s opinion that the retirement board would not hit its projection that it will generate 8 percent returns on its investments over the next 20 years. Poore said the board has experienced 10.15 percent return on investments over the prior 20 years and 8.3 percent over the last decade.

One of the main reasons the board is advocating for the increased payments to pensioners, Poore said, is that the city recently made changes to retirees’ health insurance that has led to increased premiums and out-of-pocket expenses for pensioners.

“Four hundred retirees are getting 70 percent increases in their health care next year,” Poore said. “That’s why we brought this forward.”

Due to the newness of the information presented and the dispute over its impact on the proposal, councilors agreed to send the proposal to a study committee before voting. Councilors said they will hold a meeting later this month to hear from both sides and the public.

Jerry, an active Association member, said that the council did vote to accept the provisions of Section 101 of Chapter, a home-rule law, which increases the disability survivors’ pension to $12,000 yearly. “It was a 3-2 Board vote, but the Council’s vote was unanimous,” he said.

“Jerry’s been a fighter on behalf of Haverhill’s retirees,” said Association President Ralph White. “He’s a retired deputy fire chief and helps out the Firefighters Union on health insurance and retirement issues.”