Accidental disability pensions awarded to Providence firefighters will account for more than half the $29 million the department spends on pension payments this year, according to an analysis of payroll records by WPRI.com.
City records show 58% of all firefighters or their families receive a disability pension for being hurt on the job – 329 out of 569 as of January. All but 10 of those are tax-free.
Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare emphasized on last week’s “Newsmakers” that he will be looking to force some significant belt-tightening in the police and fire departments as he takes charge. Pension and benefit costs are among the issues he plans to examine.
Tim White first reported for us in late 2008 on the high cost of disability pensions across Rhode Island. After interviewing Pare on Friday, we decided to request the latest numbers from the city to revisit the issue and see where things stand now.
Back in 2008, Tim calculated the Providence Fire Department’s disability rate at 56%, meaning more than half of all firefighter pensions were for an accidental disability; by my calculation, the disability rate has now ticked up even higher, to 58%.
Disability pensions for former firefighters will cost the city $15.5 million in 2011 if all those payments continue for the rest of the year. That’s more than the total for every other category.
Regular fire pensions will cost $8.7 million, followed by pensions for accidental disability leading to death, $2.1 million; fire widows, $1.5 million; accidental death, $942,708; court-awarded payments, $229,719; and ordinary disability, $160,056.
In the police department, by contrast, accidental disability pensions will only make up $7.1 million of the $23.2 million total bill for pensions this year, or about 30%. A total of 639 police officers or their families got pension payments in January.
The city’s entire pension bill for this year is set to be just under $80 million. That figure does not include teachers, whose pensions are handled by the state Employees’ Retirement System of Rhode Island.
As Tim wrote back in 2008, “The stats for the Providence Fire Department are also affected by the early 1990s, when nearly eight out of 10 retiring firefighters were granted an accidental disability pension.” That was down to one in five by 2008.
All but two of the 12 biggest pension payments in the City of Providence go to former members of the fire department, the statistics show. Here are the current top five, all of whom receive tax-free disability pensions:
- Gilbert McLaughlin (fire, 1991): $175,162
- Robert Anthony (fire, 1991): $145,019
- Anthony Sauro (fire, 1991): $143,722
- William D’Iorio (fire, 1990): $139,614
- William Manchester (fire, 1991): $132,466
But those figures actually understate how much the city spends per month on these retirees – because it doesn’t include the retiree health care benefits they continue to receive. So we asked the city for those numbers, too.
Here’s how much Providence spent on the retirees’ health benefits in January, along with the total combined cost of their pensions and health care in 2011 if those amounts are annualized:
- Gilbert McLaughlin: $196,102 (Jan. health: $1,745)
- Robert Anthony: $165,875 (Jan. health: $1,738)
- Anthony Sauro: $150,178 (Jan. health: $538)
- William D’Iorio: $156,786 (Jan. health: $1,431)
- William Manchester: $153,322 (Jan. health: $1,738)
Paul Doughty, president of the city firefighters union, pointed out in Tim’s original report that those top pensioners retired as high-paid fire department managers, not rank-and-file firefighters.
And Doughty himself said McLaughlin’s tax-free $13,000 monthly pension is “a lot of money,” adding: ”As a taxpayer, they should have looked at it better then.” But then-Mayor David Cicilline said the city is “limited” in its ability to claw back pensions that were awarded legally in the past.
For more on all this, check out Target 12′s Probing Pensions archive, which includes all the stories that ran back when we originally investigated this in 2008.
This story has been revised to correct disability pensions’ share of all fire pensions.