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Cindy Rushefsky: Both sides 'are hurting a little bit.'
Cindy Rushefsky: Both sides 'are hurting a little bit.'

Council opts to cover half of AFC deficit

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At its June 14 meeting, Springfield City Council put an issue to rest that has been a point of contention between city management and Police and Fire employees for months.

In a 7-2 vote, council members agreed to contribute $4.75 million from a telecommunications lawsuit toward an unfunded portion of a benefit program for Police and Fire Tier I employees.

The level of commitment – advocated by associations representing the employees – completes the city’s obligation toward the fund, according to Shawn Martin, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 152.

At issue is the Additional Funding Contribution, which sets aside a portion of Tier I employee salaries for retirement. The benefit, which was supposed to be paid through the contributions of employees, is underfunded by approximately $9 million. Factors contributing to the amount include the city’s decision to close the Tier I plan, a lower-than-expected rate of return on investments and higher-than-expected retirement payouts.

At its inception, the plan was underfunded by $3 million, which was to be repaid through the enrollment of new employees. By closing Tier I, however, the city closed the plan to new enrollees, increasing the amount of responsibility Tier I employees would shoulder.

Council members considered four options – originally presented by City Manager Greg Burris at a June 8 meeting – to determine the city’s financial responsibility in the shortfall.

According to a news release issued by IAFF Local 152 and the Springfield Police Officers Association, employees intended to file a lawsuit if any solution other than Option A – the option ultimately passed by council – was approved.

Mayor Jim O’Neal and Councilman Dan Chiles voted against Option A, instead voicing approval for Option B-2, a scenario that assumed the city’s closing of the Tier I pension plan was responsible for $2.1 million of the shortage and denied city responsibility for the other factors contributing to the shortfall.

“I think that the employees made this decision years ago (and) would accept the rising and falling of this plan,” Chiles said.

The members who voted for Option A voiced a desire to put the issue to rest.

“We’ll walk away from this with both of us hurting a little bit, but we’ll walk away,” said Councilwoman Cindy Rushefsky.

New retailer interest
In two weeks, council should learn the name of the developer interested in a 14.5-acre parcel in southwest Springfield.

Assemblies of God Financial Services Group, the current landowner of the southeast corner of Battlefield Road and Kansas Expressway, requested the formation of the Kansas Battlefield Community Improvement District to allow businesses in its boundaries to charge a half-cent sales tax to fund the cost of infrastructure improvements.

According to Mike Nichols, attorney at Husch Blackwell Sanders LLP, who spoke on behalf of the landowner and developer, an 84,000-square-foot building would be constructed for a single retailer. Because the deal is still in negotiations, the developer has not been named.

“At the next meeting, I believe we will have submitted … a cooperative agreement between the city, the district – presuming it’s approved – and the developer. So at that time, we’ll be able to reveal exactly who the proposed user would be,” he said.

Among the property improvements the developer plans to add a traffic signal at the intersection of West Battlefield Road and South Kansas Avenue; build a West Montclair Street, which would run between Kansas Avenue and Kansas Expressway; and create a right-in, right-out access off Kansas Expressway.

Green light for Walgreens liquor
A 6-3 vote gave city support for a liquor license to be issued for the Walgreens at 1140 E. Kearney St. While liquor licenses are granted by the state, Springfield law prohibits the sale of liquor within 200 feet of a school or church unless the city approves the license. Robberson Elementary School falls within that 200-foot limit.

During the public hearing, two members of the Walgreens management team outlined the store’s policies for alcohol sales, including cash registers that are programmed to remind associates to ask for identification; the sale of only full-size containers; and a training program that includes teaching employees how to identify intoxicated individuals. Those speaking in opposition to the license included Kevin Huffman, Robberson’s principal, and Jim Blaine, medical director of Ozarks Technical Community College’s Health and Wellness Clinic.

Council members John Rush, Rushefsky and O’Neal opposed the bill.[[In-content Ad]]

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