The Legislative Council's public hearing Tuesday night on the town side of Mayor Scott Jackson's proposed 2012-13 budget turned into something of a referendum on whether the town should bond to shore up the failing pension fund.
More than 100 people attended the hearing, with about a dozen speaking on a variety of issues. But for many of the speakers -- mostly town employees -- the massive deficit in the pension fund was their biggest concern.
The fund is short about $200 million and expends about $20 million a year to the town's retirees. Jackson has proposed a contribution next year of $9.3 million.
"I'm happy to see the increase but it's not enough," said Michelle Mastropetre, who sits on the Planning and Zoning Commission. "We have an obligation to our retirees and can't dig a bigger hole than we are already in."
"Year after year we have not funded the pension fund adequately," said retired police officer Bob Maturo. "We are now at the point where the fund in such bad shape that it is affecting the bond rating of the town -- not only is it affecting the town's employees and retirees, but the town's fiscal health."
It has gotten to the point where bonding the pension deficit has to be looked at, Maturo said.
"Something you have to consider is pension obligation bonds," he told the council. "If the fund is healthy, the town is healthy -- they go hand in hand."
"We see no other way to sustain [the pension fund] other than bonding and funding it," said Hamden Police Det. Mike Ambrosino.
"Throughout the years the Police Union has bargained in good faith with the town over the pension contract -- and it is a contract," Ambrosino said. "Now we are faced with the possibility that the contract is going to be broken, not by the union, but by the town."
Police officers have contributed to the fund since 1998, he said. "The same can't be said for the town," he said, referring to the years when the town has contributed little to no money to the account.
"We do a job that most people would not or could not do," he said. "We deserve a properly funded and sustainable pension."
"We are only asking the town to live up to its commitment to us," said retired Police Officer Anthony Mase. "If it takes bonding, so be it -- as a taxpayer I'm willing to pay it."
Shepard Avenue resident George Levinson said bonding now would be a big mistake and something that taxpayers can't afford.
"We would have to pay about a 6 percent interest rate because of the town's bad bond rating," he said, which would result in a permanent 2 mill increase. and only bring the fund up to 60 percent funded because of the 4 percent borrowing cap approved last fall in as part of charter revisions.
"The town needs to extract concessions from the union," he said, as well as examine the possibility of eliminating jobs.