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Municipal employee pensions of past have been bonanza for workers, strain for cities

More from the Miami Herald series on public pensions:

After more than two decades working in Miami Beach’s 911 call center, Pamela Kindle wanted her golden parachute.

Her $60,000-a-year job would provide a modest pension for retirement, but Kindle wanted more. So, she launched into a “marathon” of overtime, racking up an extra 50 hours of work a week during her final two years on the job.

When she retired in 2002, Kindle did so with a $150,000 taxpayer-supported pension. Yearly increases have pumped up her pension to more than $182,000.

“I earned my money,” said Kindle, 63, who says the city helped create her pension by perennially understaffing the call center. “I worked hard.”

By the time she reaches her mid-70s, the city’s pension fund will have paid her $4,074,000 in her golden years.

Scores of South Florida city employees, particularly police and firefighters, have recently retired in their mid to late 40s or early 50s with six-figure pensions, the result of generous pay and benefits packages that are now costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars a year.

The deals were agreed to by elected officials in negotiations with politically potent employee unions — especially police and fire unions, whose members face the biggest risks but enjoy higher pay and better benefits.

During the real estate boom, there was plenty of money for pay raises and perks, even as employers in the private sector were ratcheting down health benefits and phasing out traditional pensions in favor of self-funded 401(k) plans. Then it all went sour. More here.