A merger of the Pittsburgh and Wilkinsburg fire departments must wait a few weeks, Pittsburgh’s fire chief said yesterday. Chief Darryl Jones said the merger likely won’t be completed until February. He referred additional questions to Public Safety Director Michael Huss, who would say only that “the details are still being worked out, but things are looking good,” in a statement released by spokeswoman Marissa Doyle.
Wilkinsburg Mayor John Thompson and borough Manager Marla Marcinko did not return calls seeking comment.
Gov. Ed Rendell recently signed a bill to merge the fire departments in 2011. Pittsburgh would offer permanent jobs to Wilkinsburg’s 26 full-time firefighters, and the borough would turn over an undetermined amount of money to pay for their pensions.
Among provisions in a memorandum of understanding — signed in August by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Joe King, head of International Firefighters Union Local 1 — Wilkinsburg firefighters would enter the city’s pension plan and carry over 54 percent of their time earned in Wilkinsburg for vesting and benefit formulas.
City officials hoped to complete the merger by the end of December, but the tussle over management of Pittsburgh’s pensions delayed the merger. The city had until Dec. 31 to prove to the state that it could fund its pensions up to 50 percent of $1 billion in obligations. Last week, City Council approved a plan to fund the pensions with parking tax money.
Huss had warned that without a plan in place to avert state management of the pensions, he could not guarantee Wilkinsburg firefighters 54 percent of time vested from Wilkinsburg.
King said the numbers used to complete the merger assumed an 8 percent investment return on the pensions, and that “Wilkinsburg has struggled to meet this economic projection.”
Under a state takeover of the pensions, he said, that number would be 6 percent, throwing off financial predictions. It was unclear whether the numbers would change under council’s bailout plan.