Memphis mayor announces restoration of public safety employee pension plan

Published: Sep. 28, 2022 at 11:03 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The City of Memphis announced the restoration of its public safety pension plan.

All commissioned police officers, firefighters and dispatchers will have the option to return to the 1978 pension plan.

The city says, “upon retirement, employees will receive a monthly benefit, which is a percentage of their highest 3-year average.”

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and public safety leaders believe this will aid in the city’s effort to recruit and retain more police officers and firefighters.

“Over the last almost seven years, we have continually improved the pay and benefits for firefighters and police officers to better recruit and retain them. Now more than ever, these efforts are essential in maintaining our public safety workforce, and this investment will help us,” said Strickland. “With today’s change, the 2019 public safety referendum will allow us to offer the 1978 pension as an option for all of these essential employees.”

All employees hired before July 1, 2016, already participate in the 1978 pension plan. Now, this change will allow the 1978 plan as an option for all employees hired after that date, according to the city.

This would make approximately 1,000 employees eligible for the plan, set to take effect July 1, 2023.

It still needs approval from the Memphis City Council, but Mayor Jim Strickland says the money is there.

“Our experience with the sales tax referendum over the last two years shows that we can afford to make that available,” Mayor Strickland said.

Memphis police and firefighters say this retirement benefit will be life changing for their families.

“First of all thank you to the citizens of Memphis,” Memphis Fire Chief Gina Sweat said. “Because without you, this would not be possible.”

“Agencies around the country have officers that work hard every day, and deserve good benefits,” Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis said.

With this pension plan, public safety employees can contribute 8% of their salary towards retirement and the city will match the contribution of no less than 6% of the employee’s salary.

“This is a great place to work but the benefits just haven’t been what other departments had,” Memphis Police Public Information Officer Theresa Carlson said. “We’re making great strides to do that, [and] I really believe this is a step in the right direction for retention of our officers -- our well-trained officers.”

Carlson has been with the police department for 8 years. She lost her pension and says getting it back will be life-changing for her family.

“As soon as it was able I jumped at the chance to get back in,” she said. “So having a set amount of money coming in after I retire here in Memphis is just invaluable.”

Memphis Fire Department PIO Qwenesha Ward says this change will give them a new option, and she hopes of new hires coming to Memphis.

“Being able to contact and reach out to those women and firefighters who may have been hesitant to move to Memphis because of not having a traditional pension, and [now] saying hey, we have this, is one more benefit that we have to offer, Ward said. So come on.”

Mayor Strickland says they plan to finalize the actual cost of this change in the near future.

They’ll then present a budget to the city council in April.

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