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Chattanooga police and fire pension protest at City Council

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Some police and fire employees are not happy with proposed changes to their pension fund suggested by the Mayor's Task Force. They filled the City Council chamber Tuesday evening, holding signs, ready to take their beef to the people who will make the decisions.

The chairman says the council is paying attention, but the current plan is not fiscally sound, and it is time for the city to move.

"I feel like they're taking care of the upper administration part and leaving the low guys out," explained Chattanooga Fire Capt. Chip O'Dell, acting as a spokesperson for the protestors.

On the day it was announced a vote by the pension board would be postponed, they had a message, go back to the drawing board. "We do agree changes need to be made to he pension," Capt. O'Dell continued. "We think they can be smaller changes. Less drastic. Not as big on our cost-of-living raise, which most of the fire fighters depend on."

The mayor's plan would increase employee contributions to the under funded pension fund by as much as 37 percent and cut cost-of-living adjustments.  The changes would account for some 200-million dollars in savings for the city over 26 years.

But Captain O'Dell says it leaves those of mid-to-low rank and pay out in the cold. And he believes those employees, in particular, have been left out of the process. "They say it was a wide spectrum of people on the task force, but it's not, really," he added. "The task force members are made up of mostly chiefs. We have a retired chief, a former chief, the chief of the department, and the president of the pension board is a chief."
Chairman Yusuf Hakeem said it was meaningful to hear from the group, as the Council will ultimately be responsible for any changes to the pension fund. He added, they are taking the issue seriously, but have to be mindful of the city's purse-strings. "We don't want the city to be talking about tax increases and things of this nature," he explained. "We're trying to live within our means."

Chairman Hakeem said they will take all points of view into consideration, but are too far along to start the process over. "I think we are, when we look at our budget process, and as we're moving forward, we have to get something done," said Chairman Hakeem. "And we don't see it serving any purpose to delay."

The vote by the Pension Board on the recommendations by the Task Force has not yet been rescheduled.  Capt. O'Dell says, if he needs to round up more protestors for next week's city council meeting, he can and he will.

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