Pay attention to pensions

Likely lost in the pandemic pandemonium recently was a well-reported story by News staff writers about the long-term employee pension debt threatening to choke local government budgets.

Combined, nine local governments that reported data to The News owed $136 million toward such debt. All together, those pension plans were 69% funded, meaning that, if all pension benefits earned or expected to be earned were claimed today, local governments could only pay out to seven of every 10 retirees.

The further behind a government is, the more they have to pay each year to catch up. By 2024, Alpena County’s pension payments could account for a whole 14% of its general fund budget.

Those are the same budgets that pay for road and sidewalk repairs, county prosecutors, police and fire services, paramedics, and more.

Local governments have to keep the promises they’ve made to their retirees, but they have some flexibility in the benefits they offer future hires and the funding mechanism they use to pay for pension debt.

Tackling that debt is a decision for the boards and commissions we elect, in negotiations with employees and employee unions.

But you should be a part of that conversation, too.

We urge you, dear readers, to pay attention to your community’s long-term pension debt and to make sure your elected leaders know what you think ought to be done, what ought to be prioritized.



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