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COLA News: Leominster at it Again!
New 5th Member Gives Hope
SEPTEMBER 2016 VOICE: Despite pleas from the Leominster Retirement Board elected members John Perry and William “Tex” Thibodeau, the Mayor’s Board appointment, David LaPlante and his appointed City Comptroller John Richard voted “No” on granting a $360 annual “COLA” increase for this year. This will be the seventh consecutive denial dating back to June, 2010 that both of these members have voted “No”.
The denial has now cost the average Leominster retiree a cumulative $2,520 in annual pension payments. “The average pension for a Leominster retiree age 70 or older is just $15,853,” according to Association President Frank Valeri. “Had a COLA been paid in each of the past seven years, as is the case in every other retirement system, the average pension for these retirees would now be $18,373. These retirees are also taxpayers and have paid the increases in property taxes over this same period of time.”
Valeri further notes, “It’s outrageous that one of the best-funded retirement systems in the Commonwealth continues to deny all COLA increases for retirees in need. There is neither a valid reason nor any excuse for Leominster officials to deny a COLA in each of the past seven years,” he said. “Even more curious is how Mayor Mazzarella can sit on a $33 million cash surplus, yet his Comptroller continues to say: The City cannot afford the increase.”
Farwell Appointed 5th Member
Due to the ongoing vacancy of the Board’s 5th member, the vote ended in a deadlocked 2-2 vote resulting in no COLA being paid. The vacancy, which was Mayor Mazzarella’s appointment since last October, was not made apparently because he was hopeful the Board members could come up with a compromise candidate for his appointment.
When the Board couldn’t agree this past April, he nominated a candidate. Coincidently, the Mayor saw fit to recommend 60-year Leominster resident Doug Farwell the day after the deadlocked vote took place. While this nomination came too late to be of any possible help to retirees, his confirmation by the City Council is a good indication that his appointment may bring some objectivity to future COLA decision-making.
Farwell is president and co-owner of the Fitchburg Plumbing Supply and appears to be a very well respected resident of the City of Leominster who has pride in his community. He has indicated that his reason for volunteering to break the impasse in a reasonable manner was to avoid any further embarrassment. He has pledged to look at the data relating to the retirement system and try to make an objective decision.
Repeatedly, Leominster retirees and survivors, their elected Board members and this Association have all urged Mayor Mazzarella and his appointments to recognize the obvious financial facts surrounding the retirement system and the city when sitting down to decide on a COLA increase. According to Valeri, “Each year Chairman Richard’s philosophical financial approach to view retirement trust funds as city property and use its sound financial position to enhance the city’s overall financial situation has been accepted by his Treasurer David LaPlante and former 5th member Mark O’Donnell. As such, there has been a serious breach in their fiduciary role as trustees of the Leominster pension trust fund and its members of the trust, including retirees. Retirees, their elected board members and this Association feel Doug Farwell could be a voice of reason on the board which is long overdue”