The Republican city treasurer candidate vowed “to fight tooth and nail” to stop proposals from tapping excess pension money to pay for the health care of municipal retirees -- a plan promoted most strongly by a GOP city councilor.
Treasurer hopeful Rose Parenti, who owns Computer Development Systems, is angling to knock out incumbent Democratic Treasurer Bill Veits, who has held the part-time office since 2007.
Veits bucked the city unions this year when he voted to look into the idea more deeply after a special panel examined the concept.
The treasurer, who earns $4,000 annually, oversees a professional staff at City Hall and serves as a trustee for the city’s retirement funds, which have $477 million socked away.
That’s about $100 million more than actuaries say the city will need to pay anticipated costs in the decades to come.
City Councilor Ken Cockayne, a first-term Republican, has been the loudest voice in favor of tapping the extra money to cover retiree health care, a potentially budget-busting item that the city has only begun to squirrel away money for.
City Comptroller Glenn Klocko has estimated that using excess pension cash for the health care instead of tapping taxpayers would save $1.8 million annually without risking anyone’s pension payments.
A special city panel created to investigate decided in March on a 4-3 vote not to pursue the idea, however, until the financial markets settled down and the risks could be figured more accurately.
Veits was one of the three members who sought to explore the idea more fully, along with Finance Chairman Rich Miecznikowski and T.J. Barnes, the chair of the city’s Retirement Board. Barnes is also the city Republican Party chair.
Four union-affiliated members appointed by Mayor Art Ward voted to kill the proposal.
Parenti said she believes it is “extremely important to keep the pension over-funded.”
“I would hate to see the burden of increased taxes passed onto” residents and future generations “should the fund be compromised,” Parenti said.
Supporters of the idea pointed out taxpayers are on the hook for retirees’ health care costs so they’ll pay one way or another.
They also argue that federal law requires the city leave a significant cushion if it does tap into excess pension cash in order to deal with any market reversals.
Though Parenti is a newcomer to running for office, she has been involved with the city GOP for years.
Veits is a self-employed enrolled agent and income tax specialist with a business in Southington who’s been helping people do taxes for 29 years.
He is also the long-time chairman of the city’s Planning Commission.
Veits took over the treasurer’s job after former Treasurer Patti Ewen opted not to seek a ninth term. He easily defeated Republican Mark Anderson to claim the post in 2007.
In 1981, Parenti started Computer Development with her late husband, Rick, in the basement of their Terryville home. She soon moved to Bristol, where the company has grown to occupy its own building on Riverside Avenue.
“I fully understand the importance of being custodian to all monies whether business or personal,” she said. “I know how to tighten the purse strings whenever necessary to remain fiscally responsible.”
Treasurers serve two-year terms. The election is Tuesday, November 3.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
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