Of the for this year's Annual Town Meeting, only one prompted demonstrations. Town employees from a number of departments came out last Tuesday night with signs urging Town Meeting to vote for article 21.
Article 21, which passed, increases the base on which the cost of living adjustment (COLA) is calculated for every retiree.
For Selectman Benka, speaking for a divided Board of Selectmen, the concern is the "future operating needs of the town and schools."
"We have to consider future pension funding, we can’t just kick the can down the road," Benka said.
The Board had voted against it, three to two, because of the financial implications. The increase would amount to "a lousy $30 a month" (as one retiree who called Benka described it), the total increase for all retirees would raise the town's unfunded liability to $2.2 million. He pointed out that this article increase could also add another $30 to the COLA base every year.
This increase comes without a way to pay for it, Benka observed, which is the concern that ultimately divided the Board on this issue.
"We are being asked now to approve a benefit without knowing how to pay for it this year, or in the future." Benka explained, we can always revisit this vote in fall or spring, when there’s a reasonable way to pay for it."
According to Precinct 2 Town Meeting Member Stanley Spiegel, the unfunded liability is currently at $1.65 million, so the $2.2 million figure represents a 1.3 percent increase.
Added Spiegel, "What in this town is not going up at 1.3% year after year?"
Frank Farlow, representing Brookline PAX, and a town meeting member for precinct 4, also observed that the increase will bring the COLA increase in line with other towns. PAX also feels that it is "the right thing to do."
"It will be a cost to the town budget, but it will be manageable, according to pension board," Farlow said.
Tom Van Scoyoc, a precinct 13 town meeting member and former Advisory Committee chair, also pointed out that the increase is applied to all retirees, regardless of their retirement income.
"I am a little disappointed in this discussion. We're not going about this in the Brookline way," he said. "Do we want to be burdening the town with an increase to unfunded pension liability for those making $50,000 and above in their pensions?"
He called on the Retirment Board to bring solid information on the retirees,a nd break out the figures to increase the COLA base for those retirees most in need.
The article passed in a balloted vote of 124 to 56, with three abstaining. Town Meeting also examined the Retirement Board's other two articles, Articles 20 and 22. Artice 20, increasing the retiree minimum allowance, passed. Article 22, giving stipends to members of the retirement board, was voted down.
Annual Town Meeting continues Tuesday Night at 7 p.m., again at the Auditorium. Articles 12 and 28 will be the first articles discussed, to accomodate the high school petitioners' schedules.