Tenn. Comptroller: 'Memphis moving in right direction' - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Tenn. Comptroller: 'Memphis moving in right direction'

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    Friday, October 4 2013 3:43 PM EDT2013-10-04 19:43:45 GMT
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DOWNTOWN MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

The expected long and winding road toward finding a solution to millions of dollars in city employee pension debt won praise during a visit to Memphis by Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson.

But Wilson said Memphis needs to establish a payment system, even as a state-wide mandate may become law later this month. City council members listened to two views on the financial hurdles with this issue.

There are some career professions that are not really conducive to be material for the butt of jokes. For instance, you never hear "there were these two actuaries and a priest walked into a bar ...."

You never hear that. Now, with all due respect, I know why we don't.

MORE: TN Comptroller Warns Memphis Council
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Unless you wanted to run the risk of feeling turned to stone as well, it was best not to look directly into the glazed over faces in the cramped, but jam-packed Memphis city council committee room. However, as pension experts, the ballyhooed "battle of the actuaries" lived up to the hype. Well, you would have thought so, if you were an actuary or a city council member with no choice, but to listen. Here's Councilman Jim Strickland with a pre-fight scene-setter.

"The firefighters actuary says we are $300 million in the hole in our pension plan," Councilman Strickland said. "The city's actuary says $700 million and we're going through the reasons for the differences. It's just numbers and what rate of increase do we anticipate, 7.5 percent or 7.9 percent.You wouldn't think that would be a big difference. But, they told us it would be a 100-million dollars difference."

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The actuaries' appearances could have been considered a pre-lim to a "pension talk doubleheader." For following them came executive heavyweights, Tennessee State Treasurer and former Shelby County Commissioner David Lillard, and State Comptroller Wilson.

It was Wilson who last year sent city government into a tither with a series of letters warning the Wharton administration's previous plan to defer paying debts until 2025 was terrible in the face of the debt obligations connected to the pension. With the city now determined to deal with their annual required contribution to the pension, Wilson hasn't had to waste any more ink.

"This is not just unique to Memphis," Wilson said. "This is all across the state. This is very clearly a state issue and I believe the government ought to meet its obligations. We have employees that ought to get their pensions."

"We have over 500 local government entities in the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System now," Lillard said. "We're going to discuss whether there's an option there that might assist the city in that regard."

"The steps that Memphis is taking are very positive and very affirmative," Wilson said. "I feel very good on the direction it's moving."

"There's plenty of room for debate," said Mayor A C Wharton. "But, at the end of the day, no longer do we have the saying, 'Well, we know what we're suppose to pay and we're not going to pay it.'"

It's either that or get another dose of what's it's like to be an actuary.

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