Portland voters have an opportunity in the Nov. 7 election to fix a problem that threatens the city's fiscal security and eventually might constrain taxpayers' future ability to fund the services they most value.
Measure 26-86 is a proposed city charter amendment that would overhaul the Portland Fire and Police Disability and Retirement System. This reform is desperately needed to contend with the system's current $1.64 billion unfunded liability that is projected to grow to $8 billion within 40 years.
Without changes, this enormous liability could overcome taxpayers' ability to invest in other public services that are primary to Portland residents - schools, public safety, parks and libraries. Some officials even fear that the city could face bankruptcy if this problem isn't addressed.
The solution that appears on the ballot is the result of lengthy negotiations between the Portland City Council and the city's police and fire unions. The measure addresses three glaring shortcomings of the current system: who makes up the fund's board of trustees; the abuse of the disability plan by a few firefighters and officers; and the ever-expanding cost of the current police and fire pension plan.
Measure 26-86 would establish neutral administrative oversight to review and decide disability claims and attempt to put injured officers and firefighters back to work as soon as possible.
The measure also would alter the makeup of the disability fund's board of trustees to include one police bureau representative, one fire bureau representative, two citizens with professional pension fund experience and either the mayor or a council member.
Current Mayor Tom Potter could not serve on the board because he is a beneficiary of the retirement fund, having served as a Portland cop.
Voters should decide this measure on what matters most. While a handful of cases of disability fund abuses have grabbed headlines of late, it is the retirement system that would be the real budget breaker if it were not reformed.
Measure 26-86 would erase the liability over time by moving new employees away from the city's pay-as-you-go police and fire pension program and into the less-expensive state retirement system.
This measure is fair to police and fire employees. In the long run, it also is a much better deal for taxpayers than the status quo.
Voters should approve Measure 26-86. In doing so, they will place Portland on solid fiscal ground by relieving future taxpayers of an estimated $8 billion obligation that should be dealt with today.