A Homestead councilman’s move to increase most council members’ pension benefits by about 75 percent during an election year failed when citizens questioned the council’s priorities during a public hearing, one calling the measure a “disgrace.”
Councilman Jimmie Williams, who sits on the city’s pension board, proposed an ordinance that would increase the amount of money elected Homestead officials receive, lower the age requirement, and lock in automatic 2 percent raises every year.
The measure died 4-3 on Wednesday; Councilman Elvis Maldonado and Vice Mayor Patricia Fairclough voted with Williams in favor.
Williams, who is running for reelection in November, said the goal of the ordinance was to bring parity between the benefits package of current council members and those who sat on the council before 2002, when they voted to decrease pension amounts for elected officials. The change would have applied to all current council members except Mayor Jeff Porter, who has been on the council since 1997 and is covered by the old pension law.
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Homestead police Officer John Holmes, who is also a Police Benevolent Association union representative, said the move was “a real slap on the face.”
“We had just gone through contract negations with the city, asking for pension reform and they said no,” he said. “They said they weren’t going to discuss pensions at this time. Are you serious?”
The modifications to the pension package would have made a significant difference in the amount of money collected by Homestead elected officials if they serve eight years or more, allowing council members to get a maximum of 84 percent of their compensation starting at the age of 50, instead of 80 percent at the age of 55.
Zackery Good, the city’s spokesman, confirmed that it would be a 75 percent increase in their annual pension payment upon retirement.
It also would have ensured an annual 2 percent cost of living adjustment after the first year, instead of after five. In addition, it would have allowed a council member’s spouse to collect full pension benefits after the member’s death.
The pension is based on Homestead council members’ annual compensation package of $30,000, including car and expenses allowances; the mayor’s compensation is $33,200.
Kim Hill, a longtime Homestead resident, criticized the council for “even placing it on the agenda.”
“It seems that it’s very easy for you all to put something up here that will give you some kind of compensation but when it comes for other things, you can’t,” said Hill, who was advocating for police body cameras, which council members have said are too pricey.
“You won’t even put it on the agenda; you won’t even discuss it. But when it comes to paying you, compensating you, you can create all kinds of different avenues to be able to do it,” Hill said.