Dyersburg city employees worried about shortage of retirement funds

DYERSBURG, Tenn. -- Some firefighters and police officers in Dyersburg are worried about their retirement plans and wondering if they’re going to get what they actually signed up for.

The state’s last audit showed the city’s pension plan was more than $30 million short.

Bob Kirk’s been an alderman in Dyersburg for more than 50 years, which is the longest term served in the state.

Although he describes it as a great community, he found out in February the city has major financial problems.

The state treasurer told him and other aldermen Dyersburg has one of the worst public retirement funds in Tennessee.

One alderman said in a city council meeting the fund paid out over triple what was put in last year -- sinking an account city employees plan their futures around.

“So that certainly alarmed me," said Kirk. "I knew we filed a plan of correction and we planned to catch up. We intend to catch up.”

Dyersburg’s pension has been in trouble for nearly two decades.

Court papers say administrations have borrowed money from it for other city projects and there haven’t been payments regularly going into it. It’s short by millions.

The city submitted a plan of correction to the state in 2015.

The changes are expected to put over five million dollars into the fund in five years and get it back on track.

However, they caused three city employees, a firefighter and two police officers, to file a lawsuit in 2016.

Jay Cryer, the president of the Dyersburg Firefighter Association, is the firefighter suing.

The lawsuit argues the new plan takes away city employees’ benefits and is unlawful.

“Police and fire go out every day with dangerous jobs and we shouldn’t have to worry about what the city’s doing with our pension plan," said Cryer. "We think they should hold up their end of the deal.”

Unlike other cities, such as Memphis, Dyersburg changed the retirement plan for non-vested and vested employees, which much of the lawsuit stems from.

Before the changes, Cryer planned to retire after 30 years of work, but now he’s looking to add at least five years to that.

“No one wants a 65-year-old man in the back of the firetruck. It’s dangerous to the public and the fellow firefighters.”

He also worries it’s going to hurt their recruiting efforts.

The mayor said the state approved the pension changes and they continue to be in compliance with the law.

Dyersburg’s already $40,000 over its legal budget for this fiscal year and is expected to spend more by the time the lawsuit wraps up.

“Just no respect for the work we do is the way we take it here," said Cryer.

Right now the city has a long-term debt of over $6 million.

The mayor described the town as small, rural and poor in a lawsuit deposition.

Kirk said he doesn’t want taxes raised to fund the pension but does have concerns with finding the money.

“Employees still have a good retirement plan if you stay with the city," said Kirk. "We just got to make sure as elected officials, responsible officials, that we have it funded adequately and actuarially adequate and that’s the bottom line and that’s the key.”

Kirk said the city didn’t pave a street or give employees raises last year as desperately needed.

“I’ve been kicking around this business for a long time and money doesn’t come off a tree. You’ve got to find where your resources are to operate the city and do all those things you’ve got to do in the business," said Kirk.

He said he hopes the city can find the funds to make everyone happy in the short and long term.

Attorneys are expecting to have a trial date set for the lawsuit soon.