Paducah looking for ways to fund employee pensions

PADUCAH — A financial burden: That’s how Paducah Mayor Brandi Harless and a city commissioner are describing the challenge of funding city employee pensions.

For the next four years, the city will have to increase the amount of money it puts into the pension system. In fiscal year 2020 alone, the city is expected to spend around $1.5 million. The city is looking at different ways to meet its funding obligation.

“It’s a financial burden, period. It grows every year for the next four years,” says Harless.

At Saturday’s city commission retreat, Harless said that tough decisions will have to be made, but she doesn’t think laying off employees is the answer.

“Unfortunately…when you start having to talk about cutting something, everyone jumps to staff. And then you have people that are going to lose their jobs, and that’s not the environment that we want to be creating,” Harless says.

Instead, City Manager Jim Arndt says, the city is already cutting department budgets.

“We’re proposing using about 56 percent of that extra contribution from cash balances, and then we will ask the departments to reduce their budget by that delta, if you will — the 46 percent,” says Arndt.

Another option to save money is attrition, or not hiring new employees when someone retires. In total, the city has around 360 employees. Commissioner Gerald Watkins says out of those employees, the one area from which he doesn’t want to see positions cut is public safety.

“I personally would not be in favor of losing any of the fire fighter or police officer positions or closing a fire station,” says Watkins.

Public safety is one of the many things the city will have to consider when deciding on potential hiring freezes. The city will continue to search for funding solutions over the next few years.

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