Editorial: Council must act decisively to save city pension fund

In the flush and heady ’90s, the idea of a “rainy day” reserve for the city’s pension fund might have seemed like an excess of caution. The fund was swelling so quickly Columbus Council decided not only to stop the city’s annual contributions to it, but later to stop city employee contributions as well.

The rain, fiscally speaking, is here. In fact, it’s been falling since 2008, and has taken its toll on the city pension fund just at it has on almost every other sector of the economy.

At a called work session today, Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, who says with diplomatic understatement that the status quo is “not a responsible option,” will offer a plan to save the pension fund for the consideration of Columbus Council, to be implemented in the budget no later than FY 2013.

Council will deliberate over the specifics of the plan. The urgency implicit in the mayor’s timeline for doing something about the crisis should not be up for debate.

As reported Sunday, Columbus has already had to ante up $28 million this year to keep the pension plan viable. It will likely have to pay more than $30 million next year and $50 million the year after that.

Part of the city Pension Board’s plan would in effect reverse what the city did in the 1990s, when it relieved employees of pension contributions instead of giving them a raise: This time city employees would get a 4 percent raise, and be required to pay 4 percent into the pension plan. The other part of the proposal would require future employees to work longer for the city before being vested, and reduce the percentage of salary on which pensions would be based.

Councilor Judy Thomas rightly noted that councilors need to study the plan, and predicted that council will need more than today’s meeting to resolve the issue.

Due deliberation is necessary and responsible. Kicking the issue down the road wouldn’t be.

Dean of sports scribes

His longevity and prolific prose made it possible to maintain the illusion that Furman Bisher, the journalistic dean of Georgia and Southern sports, would just keep writing forever. That he would be hammering out wry and vivid accounts of The Masters, the Braves, the Falcons, Georgia and Tech football on the same clattering old typewriter he used when he started at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1950.

That’s impossible, of course. The mortal man behind some immortal sports journalism died Sunday at 93 of an apparent heart attack.

“He put more quality words on newsprint than any other writer in the last half of the 20th century,” former editor Jim Minter told the AJC after hearing of Bisher’s passing. “He never wrote a bad column.”

For Bisher’s loyal readers, the reality that there won’t be another one will take some time to sink in.