David Hendsbee wants HRM to cover his pension regrets | The Coast Halifax

David Hendsbee wants HRM to cover his pension regrets

Councillor is hoping municipality will pay tens of thousands of dollars to help him buy-back decades of pension contributions.

click to enlarge David Hendsbee wants HRM to cover his pension regrets
Preston–Chezzetcook–Eastern Shore councillor David Hendsbee, pictured inside City Hall.

After 20 years of public service, councillor David Hendsbee has just now decided he wants in on the municipality’s pension plan. But he needs some help to pay for it.

At the next meeting of Regional Council, Hendsbee will ask for a staff report on pension options for councillors past and present who “did not have sufficient information to opt in and now want to do so, with a matching municipal contribution to buy back time of service.”

Although he has a personal RRSP, the longtime Preston–Chezzetcook–Eastern Shore councillor only enrolled in HRM’s pension plan with his re-election last October.

As it stands, the 57-year-old won’t be collecting very much from the city for his two decades of municipal service. So he and “a couple of other councillors” who have been rethinking their previous decision want staff to investigate cheaper options for buying in so late in the game.

The municipality’s pension plan is mandatory for employees and voluntary for regional councillors. Participants are eligible for an annual pension equaling two percent of the average earnings over their three highest consecutive years of service, multiplied by the number of years they contributed to the plan.

Councillors and employees can also buy back years they weren’t part of the plan for a “commuted value” that represents what the past contribution would be worth now if it had been invested at the time.

Hendsbee was told that to buy back a single year of service it would cost him $31,000.

“I don’t have that kind of disposable income to be buying back my time at that kind of rate,” he says.

The cost is the full responsibility of the employee or councillor, but Hendsbee wants staff to look into changing regulations so that HRM will kick in some cash for a matching contribution.

“If I buy time, why do I have to pay for it all by myself?” he asks.

Pensions weren’t much of a priority for Hendsbee when he was young. The councillor says he was more focused on the bureaucracy of amalgamation than his own personal affairs when he first arrived at City Hall. He also says he felt pressured at the time by a “public reluctance” to take government money.

“You know how politicians with pensions are always being accused of self-serving and stuff,” says Hendsbee. “Now, thinking of it 20 years later, well, what do I have to show for it except for my own personal savings plan that I put away over the last 25, 30 years?”

First elected to the county in 1993, Hendsbee has served as a councillor for the amalgamated Halifax Regional Municipality since 1996—save for a brief four-year sojourn into provincial politics from 1999 to 2003. He’s ineligible for an MLA pension for his single term at Province House.