First responders urging lawmakers to pass better retirement plans

Updated: Apr. 9, 2019 at 10:31 PM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - When you call 911, there should never be fear that no one will respond to your call. Though, current state mandates are making it harder to fill positions in fire and police departments across the Valley. State lawmakers are now looking at resolutions to this problem.

Tier II was passed in 2013, which changed retirement benefits for first responders.

The president of Professional Firefighters of Alabama, an advocacy group for state firefighters, explains the move as a “37 percent cut.”

“Right now, police and fire employees in the state of Alabama actually can’t afford to retire.”

With low wages offered to many entry level first responders, great benefits was the big recruiting tool.

Harer with the Professional Firefighters of Alabama says Tier II decreases retirement benefits of all first responders and keeps them on the job later in life.

“In 2012, we had 1,137 people apply for 24 firefighter positions. Last year for 30 positions we had less than 400 apply," Harer explains. "That makes a great difference when you’re trying to find the people that are responsible, the people that want to be a firefighter or a police officer for the rest of their lives.”

The organization representative in Madison says they’ve seen a 40 percent decrease in applicants since the change was implemented back in January 2013.

City Council members in Scottsboro add they can’t even keep people on the job. Retention has proved itself harder than recruitment in that city.

Harer has been with the Huntsville fire department for 16 years. “It can be frustrating not getting the people that we deserve and that the city deserves.”

Tuesday, Senators in Montgomery discussed reversing the measure. It stalled over wording.

In the past, the change has passed the House but never the Senate. In the coming days, senators are expected to pick up the conversation on this matter again. Should it pass it would then go to the House.

Monday, Madison City Council along with Mayor Paul Finley signed a resolution in support of the latest efforts to reverse the measure. Scottsboro leaders did the same a month ago.

In Huntsville, it would cost less than $70,000 to move Tier II employees to Tier I. In smaller cities like Madison or Scottsboro, it would cost less than $10,000. This all according to the Professional Firefighters of Alabama.

In every case, City leaders say the money to make this happen would not come off the backs of taxpayers.

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