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Some police, fire pensions would rise

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Evelyn Rutledge wants to be independent, but with a pension income of just $410 a month, the 91-year-old finds herself often relying on help from her son. That may change after tonight, when the Louisville Metro Council is expected to approve a measure that would fix a minimum monthly pension payment at $800 for hundreds of people — former police, firefighters or their survivors — drawing money from one of two old city funds that hadn’t been giving cost-of-living increases.

“It will help me to live much better,” said Rutledge, widow of a former city police officer. “I don’t want to have to take anything from my children.”

The measure to be considered tonight also makes it possible to assess future increases for the pension funds each year.

Raising the monthly payments this year will cost the city $870,800, which already was approved in the budget.

In 1984, police officers began using the state’s retirement system, with firefighters following in 1989. That left a small pool of earlier retirees in the old city plans. While the state system provides regular cost-of-living increases, the old city plans did not. The only increases for members of those plans came in the form of bonuses tied to the funds’ performance, said Bob Schwoeppe, an official with the old police fund.

There are 228 retired police officers or their widows collecting money from the police fund, with 274 members in a similar firefighter fund.

Among them are 124 police and 146 firefighter beneficiaries receiving less than $800 a month.

Owen Thomerson, 84, who retired from the fire department in 1971, collects $441 a month on his pension. While he and his wife of 63 years don’t struggle, Thomerson said, they do keep to a tight budget.

“We do without a few things that we would like to have,” Thomerson said.

William Hodapp, 76, said he expects that with rising costs of gasoline, taxes and household bills, most of his increase will go to day-to-day living expenses. So, Hodapp, who retired from the fire department in 1974, said he is thrilled that his $492 monthly payment will be increasing.

“After 31 years, you get a pay raise. This is tremendous,” Hodapp said.

“It’s worth waiting for. I’m glad I’m here to get it.”

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