Target 12 analyzed only pensions being collected by the retired…
Updated: Thursday, 20 Nov 2008, 11:32 PM EST
Published : Thursday, 20 Nov 2008, 11:05 PM EST
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - Now more than ever, it's critical to take a hard look at how your tax dollars are being spent. The Target 12 Investigators reveal which towns have the highest rate of workers getting hurt "on-the-job."
Disability pensions are the most costly pensions to taxpayers. According to our database, these tax-free pensions cost the state at least $54 million a year. Accidental disability pensions are the most costly because disabled workers are usually younger when they retire, so they collect longer and stop contributing to the pension system.
Focusing on the dangerous jobs of firefighters and police officers, Target 12 wanted to know, on a percentage basis, which major city or town in the state has the highest rate for costly accidental disability pensions.
The community that tops our list isn't Providence it's West Warwick. Target 12 discovered that 44% of all retired officers and firefighters are collecting a pension for being hurt "on-the-job." Providence has a 43% accidental disability rate. Warwick is next, at 34%.
But the story with Providence really lies with the fire department. Of the 476 firefighters on retirement, 265 of them are for accidental disability pensions. That's an accidental disability rate of 56%.
Paul Doughty president of the Providence Firefighters' Union says, "I think people don't really understand the physical demands that the job has."
"We have more hazards than any other city in the state, we have more runs than any other city in the state, and the fire engines and ladder trucks are under-staffed according to national standards," says Doughty.
The stats for the Providence fire department are also affected by the early 1990's, when nearly 8 out of 10 retiring firefighters were granted an accidental disability pension. Since 2000, that stat has cooled. We find about 1 out of 5 are out on disability.
On the police side, the highest disability rate goes to West Warwick at 39%. But that's with only 46 police retirees. Providence has a 31% disability rate with 472 officers in retirement. Warwick is also at 31% followed by Cranston at 29%.
The Rhode Island State Police has the lowest rate at just 8%.
Only 19 of the 230 in retirement are out for on-the-job injuries.
The lowest overall disability rate goes to the city of Pawtucket. The rules there say police and firefighters who get hurt on-the-job collect a disability pension until their 20th year, when they would normally retire.
It then gets converted down to a less-lucrative service pension. As a result, you will find only 6 Pawtucket firefighters collecting a disability pension. No other town we examined has this provision. But in Providence, they are making an effort to streamline those out on disability.
Providence Mayor David Cicilline says, "It used to be the case that once you received a disability pension that you essentially received it forever."
Mayor Cicilline says an ordinance passed this year aims to change that.
"We now have a revision that requires an annual certification of your disability," says Cicilline.
The Retirement Board then has the power to knock the pension down to a regular, taxed service pension. Another thing to consider; firefighters and police officers who are hurt on-the-job can go to any state college or university free of charge. This perk also applies to their spouses and children.