From WTVT Ch. 13 webstie.

TAMPA (FOX 13) -
Tampa police and firefighters are entitled to excellent pension benefits, but some are questioning if the benefits are a bit too generous.

This year, Tampa's Fire & Police Pension Board gave all 1,700 retirees a 13th check in the amount of $9,510.00 because this year's investment returns exceeded expectations and were over 10 percent.

"It's nothing against the people who get these distributions or the services they provide. It's a matter of we need to make sure the system is whole before we start calling some funds extra," said Robert Weissert, chief research officer for Florida TaxWatch.

Weissert believes the pension bonus check should not have been issued since Tampa's Fire and Police Pension Fund is not fully funded. Today, it's about 94 percent funded, which is a shortfall of tens of millions of dollars.

"It's not the way that families would budget," continued Weissert. "If you have excess funds in one year, but have credit card debts that you know you owe, you don't pay it out on January 31 and blow all the money this year and then next year deal with the debts we have incurred from previous years. You use that money to pay down your debts and that's what we should be doing."

Mark Bogush, chairman of the Tampa Fire and Police Pension Fund, says it's not that simple.

"I understand their position. Unfortunately, not everybody understands that every pension plan is structured a little different," said Bogush. "If the qualifiers are met, we have to -- by law -- pay the 13th check."

He says the only way to change it is to change the law, which everybody would have to sign off on, including state lawmakers and the governor.

"I wish people wouldn't lump us in with pensions that are in trouble, because I do agree that there are pensions out there that are killing the municipalities, but we're not one of those," continued Bogush.

He believes the fund will be fine in the long run and will not be a burden to taxpayers, who would be on the hook to make up any shortfall.

Weissert is not as confident about what the future holds.

"In a way, it's like a company having good sales, but losing money on the year and still distributing bonuses."


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