Bob Neuman did his time as a Dallas police officer. He kept the streets of Dallas safe for over 30 years.
He’s got a lot to worry about these days.
He’s got neuropathy in his foot, and, even worse, he’s lost one-third of his income that he’d counted on.
The retired detective lost $3,000 of his monthly income when the Dallas Police and Fire Pension Fund temporarily stopped withdrawals from the fund last week.
“I have no idea what we're going to do,” said Neuman, 65. “That’s the problem -- you can’t make up a third of your income by cutting back or selling a few things.”
The board halted withdrawals after worried retirees withdrew more than $500 million from what’s known as the Deferred Retirement Option Plan. The board froze roughly $154 million in lump sum withdrawals. The board acted after Mayor Mike Rawlings’ lawsuit seeking to stop withdrawals started a new run on the fund.
“It's my money so I should be able to use it,” Neuman said. “I mean what do I do, declare bankruptcy with a lump sum in DROP? How can you do that?
“I really don't know what the options are at this point.”
News 8 was contacted by a number of retirees who find themselves in similar situations.
“A couple of months like that and I'm in real serious trouble,” said Richard Butler, a retired Dallas Police sergeant. “It shows very little respect for those like me who put 30 years into service for the city of Dallas. I spent numerous nights and weekends away from my family and this is the thanks I get."
DROP was a third of his monthly income, too. He's worried about losing his house and about buying the prescriptions his wife needs for her health conditions.
Butler, 63, also worked for Dallas for three decades. He retired in 2011. He and his wife lived in Dallas the entire time he was on the force and they moved to the country after he retired.
The retirees feel like the pension and the city is breaking its promise to them.
DROP allowed officers and firefighters to effectively retire from the pension while still working and have those pension checks go into interest-bearing accounts. The intent was to retain veteran officers, and it was used as a recruiting tool to hire officers.
“They were encouraging us so strongly to join DROP,” Neuman said. “It sounded great and everybody did it. My wife is a retired teacher and when we both retired we had planned very carefully and DROP was part of that plan.”
Veteran officers were heavily encouraged to go into DROP. Butler and Neuman, along with hundreds of others, gave up higher pension checks to go into DROP. Those accounts paid in more than 8 percent a year for many years – an amount that actuaries now say was much too high.
“We’re not financial experts,” Butler said. “This was sold to us by the pension board as a great thing not only for us but for the City of Dallas to keep senior officers. I am tired of being called greedy for wanting them to keep their promise to me.
He says the bad investments and mismanagement is not the fault of retirees. Despite all the talk about how cops and firefighters became millionaires through DROP, they aren't among them.
“None of my friends are millionaires,” Neuman said.
He said he stayed with the department longer because of DROP. Neuman worked in the swindle squad and had opportunities in the financial sector, but turned them down because he liked being a cop and DROP made him feel like it made financial sense.
The city is now pushing a plan that would seek to get back some of the money paid back to retirees through DROP. The argument is that retirees received overly generous benefits the membership voted on that the fund could not afford.
“I think that’s going to be awfully hard to figure out because you’ve got to start measuring … what would have been the difference if I had stayed in the pension for 30 years” instead of going into DROP, Neuman said.
The Neumans have lived in the same modest home in Arlington for 38 years. They are frugal people. Neither of them drive new cars.
His wife worked as a special education teacher for 28 years. She volunteers at their church’s food pantry. He volunteers at the YMCA, teaching juggling to special needs adults.
Now he’s confronted with the very real possibility that his wife will have to return to work. He can’t because the neuropathy leaves him unsteady on his feet. Nurses visit his home three times a week to take care of the open wound on his foot. He’s been through an operation and had skin grafts.
“I literally did lay my life on the line,” Neuman said. “I’ve been shot at. I’ve been in the hospital numerous times for on-duty stuff. Part of that bargain was if you put yourself in harm’s way we’re going to treat you [well].”
Neuman and Butler are both angry at the mayor. They blame him for the pension board's decision that's costing them so dearly.
Neuman was among those whose who tried to withdraw their money in that final wave. He tried to get the money because he was so fearful of what might happen to him and his wife if they didn’t have access to their money.
He has some savings that will help them for a couple of months. If the halt on DROP withdrawals extends beyond that, he’s not sure what he’ll do.
Butler didn’t take his money out of the fund. He now wishes he had done so.
“I wanted to have faith in the system. I believed that they would do right by us,” Butler said. “I knew that taking a bunch of money out of the system would hurt the pension fund so I played by the rules and this was my thanks.”
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