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BERC DEFENDS ITS GENEROUS PENSION PLAN

Buffalo's economic development agency gives its employees far more generous pension benefits than those received by traditional city employees and many workers in the private sector, a Common Council analysis has concluded.

The head of the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. defended the benefits, saying they are more lucrative because employees face the risk of unemployment every time voters elect a mayor.

The agency contributes the equivalent of a minimum of 11.7 percent of employees' salaries to their pensions. Some receive more, depending on their pay scales. The two dozen employees are fully vested -- meaning they are entitled to 100 percent of benefits -- after three years.

City workers must work five years before vesting in the state pension plan, and must contribute 3 percent of their salaries for 10 years toward their pensions.

A national study of private companies that employ 3 million people found the average contribution toward 401K retirement accounts was 4.1 percent of salaries.

But officials said trying to compare pension plans is tricky given their complexity and differences in how payments are made.

Strategic Planning Director Timothy E. Wanamaker, who heads the agency, also argued that comparing his employees' pension benefits with workers in private companies is unfair.

"They don't have the risk of their jobs every four years after an election," he said.

Council Chief of Staff Paul W. Wolf, who conducted the analysis, disagreed.

"You have a lot of (job security) risks in the private sector," Wolf told Wanamaker last week.

North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. wants the agency's board to make changes in pension benefits.

"In these difficult times, an organization which is a shadow city agency should not have a pension plan that is more generous than city employees'," he said in a resolution.

City Comptroller Andrew A. SanFilippo said he thinks Golombek raises "valid" concerns that should be addressed in a more thorough analysis.

Clifford Bell is the agency's longest-tenured board member, having served on the volunteer panel since 1978. He did not take a formal stand on the issue, but he said the agency is "under-appreciated."

"In the 27 years I've been there, it's running more efficiently than it has ever run," said Bell, a former Council member.
e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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