Should the town adjust pension payments?

The Wilton Board of Selectmen will soon decide whether it will make a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) this year for former town workers who receive pension benefits.

Though the town reviews the need for a cost-of-living adjustment yearly — and often approves one — First Selectman Bill Brennan said at the meeting the town has “no obligation to do a COLA. Our only legal obligation is to look at it once every four years.”

From fiscal years 2010 to 2012, budgetary concerns caused the town to suspend COLAs. A 2.5% increase was approved in 2013, and in 2014 selectmen approved a 1.25% increase.

Two measures used to determine the need for a cost-of-living adjustment are the consumer price index inflation calculator, and Social Security increases, Human Resources Director Sarah Taffel said at the meeting.

Social Security will increase by 2.5% this year, while the consumer price index estimates inflation should come in around 1.7% in the coming year.

Selectman Ted Hoffstatter said although he often looks for cost-cutting measures, he feels a cost-of-living adjustment is warranted given the state of the town’s finances.

“I’ve asked for a lot of cost savings before, but if the consumer price index is at 1.7%, that’s where I would put our adjustment. Or, if we wanted to be more austere, I’d suggest 1.5%,” he said.

Ms. Taffel, answering a call from the first selectman for “words of wisdom,” said making cost-of-living adjustments is a difficult process.

“Of course there are competing considerations,” she said. “There is a necessary concern about the town’s finances and meeting budgetary requirements. … [but] I am sympathetic to the people I know and have worked with. Especially those who have been out of work for a period of time; they’re on very moderate incomes.”

She also said, however, that other towns with similarly funded pension programs “do seem to be continuing with a modest increase.”

The board plans to continue a discussion of cost-of-living adjustments at its Monday, Nov. 17, meeting.