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Meyer takes City of Covington protest to Frankfort; rising pension rates causing pain, top legislators told

Mayor Joe Meyer took Covington’s case against rising pension costs to Frankfort this week.

Having already grabbed the ear of Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear on several occasions, Meyer teamed with mayors of two other Kenton County cities to make sure key legislators understood the damage being done to City budgets.

Covington Mayor Joe Meyer, left, converses with state Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, on the floor of the state Senate this week (Provided photo).

Erlanger Mayor Jessica Fette and Independence Mayor Chris Reinersman joined Meyer in meetings with top state senators at which the public pension issue and possible solutions were discussed.

“This is an absolutely critical issue – the increasingly burdensome mandate on cities is negatively impacting Covington’s budget and thus its taxpayers, so I’m hopeful that with hard and persistent work we can find receptive ears in Frankfort,” Meyer said.

Meyer also took the opportunity to strengthen Covington’s relationship with key senators on a personal level.

As a former member of the Kentucky General Assembly himself, Meyer – who was a member of both the House and Senate at different times in his career – still holds certain privileges, such as access to the Senate floor during the session.

So Meyer used that access to good effect Wednesday, holding conversations with top senators during breaks in the action.

The mayor was in Frankfort this week for the Kentucky League of Cities’ “City Day/City Night.”

Also this week, Covington City Manager David Johnston and Assistant City Manager Bruce Applegate were Lexington for the winter meeting of the Kentucky City/County Management Association, where public pensions were among the top topics of conversation.

Recently the Covington Board of Commissioners passed a resolution calling the state’s management of public pensions “the biggest threat to the economic revitalization of our cities.”

Mayor Meyer also wrote a detailed letter to Gov. Beshear recently and was able to talk to him in person about the issue.

The drastic increases in employer contribution rates – 12 percent a year, compounded annually – were set in motion by Beshear’s predecessor, Matt Bevin.

How hard a hit is Covington taking?

In Fiscal Year 2018 – just two years ago – Covington paid $6.32 million into the state-run retirement system for the City’s firefighters, police officers, public works drivers, and other employees. In the current fiscal year, that number has grown to $8.3 million, and by Fiscal Year 2025 – less than five years from now – that figure is projected to more than double to $13 million, even if salaries and staffing levels were frozen during that five-year period. (To put those numbers in context, consider that Covington’s entire current General Fund budget is about $56 million.)

The resolution and Meyer’s letter spelled out a number of steps that Covington and other members of the County Employees Retirement System are asking the state and pension officials to take. They include freezing the increases in employer contribution rates made by local governments and in general stop making the CERS prop up the larger Kentucky Retirement Systems.

“The first step is making sure that leaders understand the damage being done to local services,” Meyer said, “and we will continue driving home that message.”

Erlanger Mayor Fette said that cities in Kenton County carry more weight when they partner together.

“The possibilities are endless when we as a community work together,” Fette said. “This was shown at the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in January, and it is no different when we are advocating for our communities around issues such as pensions or road funding or a multitude of other impactful issues. We are a stronger voice when we work together.”

City of Covington

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