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The Carver City Council has signed off on a state-run retirement plan for firefighters that will nearly double pension benefits.

The west metro city is the latest in Minnesota to transition from operating its own retirement plan to joining the Minnesota Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA). Starting next year, Carver firefighters who reach retirement at age 50 will receive $4,000 annually in pension benefits for each year of service, compared to the current $2,507 provided through the Carver Fire Relief Association, according to city officials.

The City Council approved the change Nov. 21.

"I think the plan as it is, and the change that we're making, does more for our current firefighters in that it lessens their load," Mayor Courtney Johnson said. "It lets them focus on what they're doing for our community, and that's the fire and public safety services."

Comparable cities including Lino Lakes, Waconia, Spring Lake Park and Victoria already utilize the state's pension plan. Retired Waconia firefighters receive $5,700 annually for each year of service, and Victoria firefighters get $4,500.

"We were able to get a mechanism that's supported by the state and, at the same time, be able to benefit our firefighters," said Luke Swirtz, Carver Fire Relief Association president.

The state has taken steps in recent years to remove hurdles associated with PERA — including 2018 legislation that allows fire departments participating in the state-run pension system to leave — and that's made it a more attractive option, Johnson said.

"I can't say for sure if that has influenced more entities to join," said Doug Anderson, PERA executive director. "What I can say is that we have not had anyone choose to leave once they have joined."

Carver Fire Chief Cally Trimbo said many firefighters in the department — including himself — are looking forward to the increase in benefits.

"They thought that the city really stepped up and proved that they cared about their firefighters, and I think that this is going to be a great recruitment tool that we'll be able to use in the future," he said.

Carver Fire Relief Association treasurer Brian Hall said he is looking forward to no longer having to spend an average of 40 to 50 hours of annual volunteer time to complete state audits. With PERA taking over pension benefits, the association will no longer be required to complete state audits.

After a final audit this coming March, Hall said he will continue to handle the association's general fund to host events and retirement banquets for members.

"I can honestly say I don't think there's any one of them that's ever done it for the money. And so we try to show our appreciation to them for giving up their time," Hall said. "My role will be making sure that everything that we receive is accounted for and spent properly."