Harlingen firefighters trying to avoid using city taxes for pension contributions

Firefighters work tirelessly and in many times dangerous situations throughout their career while also giving a cut of their paycheck to their retirement.

Firefighters work tirelessly, and in many times, dangerous situations throughout their career —while also giving a cut of their paycheck to their retirement.

But as a deadline fast approaches, firefighters in Harlingen have hit a roadblock on their pensions.

The state regulator that oversees firefighter pensions has now given Harlingen firefighters and the city until the end of October to agree on how much money comes out of a firefighter's paycheck and into their pension.

"The amortization is over 50 years for the [retirement] plan,” said Harlingen Assistant City Manager Gabriel Gonz├ílez. “That's a concern. So, we were just trying to come up with options to actually address that."

The city of Harlingen and firefighters have been unable to agree on a recent request from state regulators asking that firefighters and the city contribute an additional 0.75 percent to pensions.

"Some people just couldn't afford to lose that extra money," said Harlingen Fireman Pension Board Chairman Mario Alvarado.

Both firefighters and the city have until Saturday to come to a conclusion, but the Texas Pension Regulatory Board is giving them more time to discuss how much money will be coming out of their paycheck.

"If an agreement is made, the city will as well match the contribution, which affects the tax payers as well, but that's something we're trying to avoid at this time," Alvarado said.

Firefighters and the city have agreed to give the state a statement of progress in reference to the firefighters options. They will look into adjusting benefits and changing formulas in the retirement plan.

“It would create for stability in the plan, to satisfy the requirements from the [Texas Pension Regulatory Board] but it would be less from our paycheck," Alvarado said.

Alvarado adds that many of the 106 members of the Harlingen Fire Department don't want too much money taken from their paycheck and prefer to wait and see how investments in the pension plan fair.

With the new deadline for the city and firefighters, the Harlingen firefighter's pension board says an agreement will be created at the discretion of the state pension board.

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