I know 2016 was a difficult year for City employees. In the first half of the year there was worry about the budget and the possible loss of jobs. Then there was the uncertainty about the future of employee pensions. We balanced the budget in record time and we now have a pension plan proposal ready for the state legislature to approve that provides certainty and reliability, now and for the future.
Many of you want to know what these reforms mean for you personally. For those eligible to retire right now, there are questions about whether they should retire before the changes take effect. You deserve good and timely answers to these questions, just like you deserve a pension you can count on.
Because the proposed reforms still need approval from the Texas Legislature, the earliest any changes will take effect is July 1, 2017. Please keep this in mind and take your time in deciding.
Next, know that my administration has worked closely with your pension leadership to protect employees and retirees’ financial futures. The changes in benefits were recommended by your pension system representatives, who are in the best position to know the needs of their retirees. They took a balanced approach that places great value on the experience and knowledge of the nearly 2,000 police officers eligible to retire today.
I encourage you to reach out to your pension representative and ask for an explanation of the changes, and how they affect you. Their contact information is listed at the bottom of this letter. Just as your pension leadership has worked closely with the City, they will work closely with you to help you make the best decision for you and your family. Everyone’s situation will be different, so the right decision for your colleague may not be the best option for you.
We must remember that maintaining the status quo was never an option. The long-term health of your pension system is in danger, and changes were absolutely necessary to guard your retirement and the pensions of thousands of police, firefighters and civilian City employees. We had no choice but to change, or risk your financial future, as well as the City’s. These particular reforms are not an alternative to no change at all. They are an alternative to imposition of defined-contribution/401K-type plans with much more draconian cuts in benefits and more risk for you. This is what others want for you. We said no and only made the changes that needed to be made to create reliable, secure and sustainable plans for our active employees and those who are already retired. No longer must you worry about your retirement being a political football, and when you do decide to retire, you will not have to worry about whether the check will be in the mailbox.
I cannot thank everyone enough for recognizing that we must change to survive and flourish. It is due to your commitment that Houston is setting the standard for other cities like Dallas, which have no solutions at all for their pension crisis. The reforms agreed to and supported by City Council will meet our pension obligations to each of you and our responsibility to provide services to a growing population.
2017 is going to be better for city employees. I don’t want you to feel apprehensive, fearful or uncertain like you were in 2016. Some clouds still remain, but we have weathered the storm. I am grateful for your patience and understanding, but most of all I am thankful for your willingness to sacrifice on behalf of the city.
I pray 2017 holds nothing but good health and prosperity for you and your families and I look forward to continuing to work with each of you.
Mayor Sylvester Turner
Please contact your pension representatives at:
Houston Police Officers’ Pension System
602 Sawyer, Suite 300
Houston, Texas 77007