Dear Fund Members,
First, it is an honor to serve as the Chairman once again. I continue to be in close communication with all Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund (HFRRF or “the Fund”) members, both active and retired. As I continually meet more members and listen to your stories about your experiences in the Houston fire department, it re-affirms my commitment to the Board and the long-term health and viability of this pension fund.
The appellate ruling in this latest round of court proceedings sided with the City of Houston regarding the suit to stop underfunding our pension plan. On June 20, 2019 the Texas Court of Appeals, 14th Appellate District in Houston, affirmed a previous district court ruling that permitted experimental revisions relating to funding from the 2017 Texas Legislature to continue. We are very disappointed in this ruling but plan to continue our challenge to what we believe is an unconstitutional law in situations where the Board’s actuaries believe the City contribution must be higher. SB 2190 allows the City to short change the pension year to year, instead of producing long term pension security. We still believe SB 2190 conflicts with the Texas Constitution by taking away the Board’s right to select sound actuarial assumptions to be used by the Fund for this plan. The Board will continue to challenge this court’s ruling.
We said good-bye to long-time Board member, Chaplain Garry W. Blackmon, Sr., who retired after serving 35 years in the Houston Fire Department. Blackmon served our Board in Trustee Position IV, since Feb 2014. We congratulate and wish Mr. Blackmon a very happy retirement and thank him for his dedicated service to our membership. Outlined in this edition of the Red Line newsletter is the schedule to fill Garry’s unexpired term. We move forward with the energy to strengthen the Fund and provide a secure retirement plan for our members.
Lawmakers have completed the 86th session of the Texas legislature. Their primary focus was on issues of bipartisan concern that affected the whole state. We are pleased to report that there were no bills passed by the end of the session that negatively impact our Fund. The Board will continue to advance the interest of our active and retired members as we prepare for opportunities in the 87th Texas legislature. The 87th session is scheduled to begin January 12, 2021.
The dangers inherent in the fire profession are no secret. Many may suffer from long-term job-related illnesses in the fire service. The state of Texas, recognizing the hazards of our profession passed a new bill (SB 2551) adding more illnesses to help firefighters make their case for worker's compensation benefits. This legislation may make it easier to file claims with insurance carriers and may allow employees to recover attorneys’ fees from insurance carriers who act in bad faith. We applaud the efforts of the sponsors for this very important legislation.
Since our last publication, we’ve welcomed 66 new Fund members. These cadets were sworn in on May 16, 2019; joining the ranks of the Houston Fire Department, ensuring the safety of the citizens of Houston. Houston is the fourth most populated city in the nation, and with an estimated population of 2,312,717 (trailing only New York, Los Angeles and Chicago). As you know, the next general elections are Tuesday, November 5, 2019 (election day) and will fill some key city leadership positions.
In closing, the Fund was created by state statute and, since its founding in 1937, it has been administered by its Board of Trustees who have adopted sound actuarial assumptions used by the Fund. HFRRF’s assets have grown steadily over the years. The market value of Fund assets in 1988 was approximately $468 million; today its assets are approximately $4.2 billion. We look to the future as we work toward the continued growth of our investments and long-term health and viability of this pension fund.
Have a safe summer!
Brett R. Besselman, Chair
Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund
Board of Trustees