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Billboard draws attention to Galveston police pension issue

February 3, 2019
In this Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019 file photo, a motorist drives past a billboard critical of Galveston's police pension plan on the northbound frontage road of Interstate 45 near Galveston, Texas. (Stuart Villanueva/The Galveston County Daily News via AP)

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) — A billboard on a highway near Galveston is bringing attention to the city’s rift with its police union, criticizing the town as “Home of the Worst Police Retirement in Texas.”

The Galveston Municipal Police Association recently leased the billboard along Interstate-45, where it’ll stand for the next month. The association functions separately from the police department, but represents police interests.

City officials and the police pension board held several discussions about fixing the officers’ ailing pension system last year, but seem no closer to a deal, the Galveston County Daily News reported. The pension plan’s unfunded liabilities grew from $29 million in 2017 to $32 million in May, according to actuarial reports.

A state pension review panel last year released a report that found Galveston has been underfunding the city’s police pension for more than 15 years. Police officers are contributing more to the plan than they’ll ultimately review, according to the Texas Pension Review Board’s report. The board determined that the fund’s issues stem from inadequate contributions, poor investment returns, increased payments to beneficiaries and uneven ratio of those paying into the plan versus those receiving from it.

City officials are calling for changes to the pension board and raising officers’ retirement age above 50 years old.

The city has expressed doubt that Galveston’s police pension plan is the worst in the state.

“What is beyond a doubt is that the state of the plan is the product of a board mostly comprised of plan beneficiaries and is in desperate need of repair,” city officials said.

The billboard was put up while the city’s police department works to recruit more experienced officers by offering higher pay for skilled applicants.

“It’s certainly going to be impressionable for potential applicants,” said Vernon Hale, the city’s police chief.

Clint Stevens, the association’s PAC chairman, said he hopes the billboard sparks dialogue.

“I don’t think that the average member of the public realizes when we say it’s the worst police retirement for public safety plans, we’re not being dramatic,” Stevens said.

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Information from: The Galveston County Daily News, http://www.galvnews.com

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