New York City's fiscal 1992 budget gap could widen by at least $100 million because of higher-than-expected pension fund needs, according to bond documents and city officials.
Information on the city's pension liability was added to the city's official statement on Dec. 19 for a $985 million bond offering sold the day before. The move came after Robert C. North Jr., the city's actuary, earlier that day told trustees of the New York City Employees Retirement System that the city may have to contribute an additional $30 million to $60 million in fiscal 1992.
"I wanted to make them aware there might be some news about their fund," Mr. North said in a phone interview on Tuesday. "I spoke to them because they will not have a regular meeting until February."
The retirement system is one of the city's five pension funds. The city's official statement took all five into consideration to arrive at its estimate of $100 million or more.
Mr. North said he has not spoken with the trustees of the other pension systems but plans to contact them as soon as possible about any possible changes. And he cautioned that the potential liability is just a rough estimate and could be less or more, depending on the outcome of further study.
In a statement released by his office on Monday night said, "The impact on employer contributions is not yet definitive because the actuary is currently in the middle of a time-consuming, complex process to" finalize calculations of employer contributions and evaluate the sources of the changes in contributions.
The statement did not quantify the potential contribution to the retirement system pension fund or mention the other four pension funds. The liability information could be made public early next month, however, when Mayor David N. Dinkins presents his revised financial plan for fiscal years 1992 through 1996.
"We are working very hard to get together figures that can be used by the Office of Management and Budget for the January financial plan," Mr. North said. "If those numbers suggest a revision is appropriate, that is their decision."
The official statement for the city offerings says, "The city actuary has preliminary determined that the city may be required to make pension contributions which could be materially greater than the amounts assumed in the financial plan," the official statement says.
On Monday, an official with the city comptroller's office defined "materially greater" as being at least $100 million, but said it was a "very conservative estimate." She added that the pension information was included in the official statement as part of the city's efforts to provide complete disclosure to investors.
Upon the insistence of the city comptroller's office, her staff, officials with the Office of Management and Budget, and lawyers with the city's disclosure counsel, Lord, Day & Lord, crafted that sentence after Mr. North commented on the potential liability the day after the bond deal was priced. The information was not included in the deal's preliminary official statement.
The city's potential liability to the retirement system could be triggered by a number of events, including higher salaries for some city employees, the number of employees on the payroll, and job promotions and transfers, city sources said.
According to the official statement, the city estimates that it will make contributions totaling about $1.5 billion in fiscal 1992 to the five pension funds.
The New York City Employees Retirement System receives contributions from a variety of public employers, including the city, the New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., and the New York City Transit System, Mr. North said.
This news about city's liability is unlikely to spook investors who bought last week's bonds. They are veterans of the torrent of bad budget news, and the city has been constantly updating investors and the public about its budget problems.
Three major fiscal monitors of the city's finances recently reported that they estimate the budget gap for fiscal 1992 to be between $300 million and $357 million. And the city said on Nov. 6 that it faces a $210 million gap and offered a plan to close it. Shortly after that, city officials acknowledged that the gap may widen by an additional $100 million because of the state's dire budget problem, which may cut state aid to municipalities and school districts.
City officials said there should be no risk that investors will walk away from purchasers of last week's bonds because the city has already disclosed in bond documents that its budget problems could worsen. While the deal was priced on Dec. 18, it will not close until Jan. 7.