Batesville City Council hears concerns about ‘old firemen’s pension fund’

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A group of retired firefighters appeared before the Batesville City Council Tuesday to again ask for help with their pension fund’s pending insolvency.

The retirees and widows are covered by what is known as “the old firemen’s pension fund.” Current firefighters and those who have retired in recent years are covered under the Arkansas Local Police and Fire Retirement System, known as LOPFI, which was created by state law.

The older fund is facing insolvency because no one is contributing to it anymore, and it lost value through economic downturns and bad investments. It’s administered by a local board of directors and managed by a financial adviser. It’s funded by a four-tenths of a mill property tax. Sixteen people remain in the older fund.

Erin Eason, who is with Linsco/Private Ledger, has been the pension fund’s financial adviser since 2005. She said the pension fund would run out of money in two to three years without another funding source.

She suggested the council increase the millage dedicated to the fund by six-tenths of a mill to a full mill. City Attorney Tim Meitzen said this could be accomplished by a ballot initiative or a vote of the council. While he said he believes the council can do it, others disagree, including Arkansas Municipal League attorneys.

Council member Tommy Bryant pointed out that even if placed on the ballot, there is no guarantee it would pass. He also said even if it did pass, it would take two years before any revenue would be collected from it. The city would have to subsidize the fund to keep it from going bankrupt.

The pension fund pays out $250,000 a year to the retirees, Ms. Eason said.

After a lengthy discussion, there was no resolution to the problem and the council took no action.

The city council approved two resolutions condemning properties in the city.

The council held public hearings on the two properties before taking action. The two residences are at 949 State St. and 129 Oriole St.

Code Enforcement Officer Chad McClure both properties were in disrepair and had suffered fire damage.

Of the State Street residence, McClure said neighbors have complained about the condition of the house numerous times. He said the water meter had been pulled and the sewer line disconnected because someone was illegally obtaining water and using the sewer.

Batesville Fire Chief Brent Gleghorn said his department has responded to fire calls at the property four times in the last few years.

Jennifer Reves, the owner, said she has not lived there for a couple of years but her ex-fiance was still there and refuses to move out.

The owner of the Oriole Street property, Elaine Comer, was not present for the hearing on her case.

The council approved resolutions declaring the properties a nuisance and ordering them removed, torn down or abated within 30 days. If not, the city will have them torn down or removed.

Reporting by Bob Qualls

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