Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
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Meaningful reform

It didn't take long for Oregon officials to grab former Toledo Police Chief Mike Navarre off the retirement rolls and put him in charge of the city's police department. No one should fault Mr. Navarre for fully exercising his rights under Ohio law governing public employees' retirement. But his situation offers the latest evidence of the need for reform of that system.

Chief Navarre decided to retire from Toledo's police force in September because he was approaching the eighth anniversary of his enrollment in the Deferred Retirement Option Plan, or DROP. That pension program allows some Ohio police officers and firefighters to take a lump-sum retirement check in return for lower lifetime pension payments. After eight years, the chief would have lost some of the value of his plan.

Mr. Navarre's lump sum came to nearly $669,000. He qualifies for a pension of more than $65,000 a year. He will get a severance check from Toledo that likely will amount to thousands of dollars more. His starting annual salary as Oregon's police chief is more than $82,000.

Again, Mr. Navarre hasn't done anything wrong. He would have been foolish to have done anything else. But the retirement system for public employees is broken and needs to be fixed.

Police officers and firefighters in Ohio already qualify for retirement years before almost all private-sector workers -- at age 48, in some instances. The DROP program gives them a lump-sum benefit that most private workers would envy, paid for in part with taxpayer dollars. They can return to work, still in the prime of life, while they collect pensions that they earned but are tax-funded as well.

Chief Navarre is not alone. Youngstown Police Chief Jimmy Hughes retired in September so he could collect his DROP payment of about $500,000. He plans to run for Mahoning County sheriff.

Niles, Ohio, Police Chief Bruce Simeone retired in June for the same reason. He was rumored to be in line for another job as chief.

Because of the physical demands of their jobs, police officers and firefighters may not be able to work as many years as most employees in the private sector. But it is still reasonable to expect that public employees' retirement benefits should be brought more in line with the benefits available to private-sector workers.

On their current course, Ohio's public pension funds could be broke in fewer than 20 years, according to a recent Northwestern University study; executives of the funds dispute that calculation. Strengthening the funding of public pensions could cost Ohioans thousands of dollars more a year in taxes.

Reducing the incentives for so-called double-dipping is the kind of reform that Ohio taxpayers say they want, that Democrats should embrace, and that Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-led General Assembly should have focused on for the past 10 months.

Now that Issue 2 has been defeated, perhaps they can all get on with the people's business.

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