Revamping a city panel looking into the possibility of using surplus pension cash to cover retirees’ health care offers hope for hard-pressed taxpayers, says the city councilor who has pushed hardest for the plan.
City Councilor Ken Cockayne, a freshman Republican, said he’s glad that Mayor Art Ward removed union members who had a conflict-of-interest serving on the first incarnation of the GASB 45 Committee.
“I commend the mayor for taking the action he did correcting the mistake,” Cockayne said.
“We all make mistakes,” Cockayne said, and he’s content that Ward recognized the initial 19-member panel wasn’t the right answer. The new committee has seven members.
The GASB 45 Committee, named for an accounting rule, will examine the prospects for saving millions for taxpayers by transferring pension fund excesses to new accounts set up to cover the future tab for health care coverage for retirees.
With experts telling the city it needs $72 million to fund the new accounts, it’s clear that the city has to consider seriously the option of using money that’s already available instead of trying to hike taxes for many years to come, the councilor said.
Cockayne, who was appointed to the original committee, blasted Ward at the time for putting at least nine union-connected members on the 19-person panel the mayor created. He also called Ward “cowardly” for not serving on the panel himself.
After terming Cockayne’s charges “totally disgusting,” Ward removed Cockayne from the committee.
But when the panel’s chairman, T.J. Barnes, asked the mayor to cut the size of the panel to seven and cease including beneficiaries on the committee, Ward agreed.
Cockayne said he erred in calling the mayor a coward.
“I do apologize for calling the mayor a coward,” Cockayne said. “I let my passion get the best of me.”
Cockayne said the issue is of crucial importance for the community because it could mean lower mill rates for years to come.
“This issue is win-win for everyone,” Cockayne said.
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