by Roxanna Woloshyn
The $293 million deficit for the permanent city workers pension fund became a popular election issue late in the race. Early in the campaign, the key issues were the stadium, housing and infrastructure. That was until Tim Siekawitch started raising the issue of the city pension deficit at recent mayoral forums and demanding a forensic audit. Now the pension deficit is a hot topic.
Before the polls closed, the top three mayoral candidates weighed in and explained what would be done at city hall, if they were elected, to turn the deficit around.
Marion Donnelly said she was aware it would take time to come to a resolution.
“There’s going to be a transitional period … too many employees don’t feel like they are appreciated, whether it is because of the pension or because of how management treats them. And that just has to stop," she said.
Meka Okochi said he believed it was about fulfilling a promise made to city workers.
“We need to protect people that are already beneficiaries of this current pension program because when people sign up to work for the City of Regina and they retire, they deserve to retire in dignity."
He added, “It also needs to be a sustainable plan for new employees coming to the city.”
Michael Fougere has been on city council for the past 15 years, and has seen the pension deficit grow steadily. He did not say how he would fix the city pension deficit, but instead stated his confidence that a settlement will be reached in the near future.
“The parties have been negotiating for some time. Looks like we are going to have a resolution in and of itself. So, hopefully by the time Christmas comes it will be resolved," he said.
According to Colin Lowenberger, the city’s director of pensions and disability administration, several issues contributed to the pension fund deficit. The economic downturn in 2008 meant bonds dropped and liabilities grew, which created a shortfall. Since then, city council has not raised the combined rate paid into the pension fund by both the employees and employers, despite recommendations to do so. To prevent the contribution rate from increasing, council has asked the two sides to negotiate a more feasible plan. The settlement is expected before the end of this year.
Lowenberger said the problem needs to be addressed and a plan needs to be implemented regardless of who becomes mayor.
“I think it is very difficult for an individual (who is) coming on to city council to try and fix this with some grand scheme or (to do it) very quickly. I think it is much more complex.”