Pension checks will shrink 6.7 percent for 12,000 Detroit retirees beginning in March. Making matters worse, many also must pay back thousands of dollars of excess interest they received.

It’s a bitter outcome of Detroit’s record $18 billion municipal bankruptcy for David Espie, 58, who will repay the city $75,000 in a lump sum while his $3,226 monthly pension is cut by $216.

As retirement costs swallow larger portions of U.S. city budgets, Detroit’s bankruptcy plan resolved a pension crisis with creative strokes, though at a cost to retirees who thought their benefits were untouchable.

“I feel betrayed,” said Espie, who may abandon plans to move to Alabama. He recounted family get-togethers he missed during the 30 years he spent in the Department of Public Works picking up trash and plowing snow. He also pays $500 a month more for health insurance than a year ago.

“It’s devastating to me; it’s affecting my health,” Espie said.

In addition to absorbing pension cuts, almost 11,000 retirees and current employees must repay an estimated $212 million in excess interest they accrued in a city-run savings plan, which is separate from the pension fund. The annuity plan guaranteed a 7.9 percent annual return even when the pension lost money, and employees also received bonus interest in some years.

Not Unprecedented

They can either pay the money back in a lump sum or have it deducted gradually from their monthly pension check with 6.75 percent interest.

The savings plan drained $756.2 million from the pension fund from 1985 through 2007 to pay for what former Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr said was excess interest. The savings fund produced six-figure nest eggs for some -- on top of their pensions -- including at least two $1 million accounts. Pensions for general employees, or workers other than police and firefighters, averaged about $19,000 a year.

The clawback is unusual but not unprecedented. About 28,000 Oregon public retirees have had to pay back a combined $156 million after the state Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that the retirement system overpaid them in 1999 with a 20 percent return, instead of 11.3 percent, said David Crosley, a spokesman for the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System.

More Soup

To make do, Detroit retiree Elaine Williams, 63, said she’ll buy more soup and eat cheaper food when her $1,200 monthly pension check is cut by $158. That includes $78 to pay back almost $10,000, a monthly debt she’ll face for 17 years.

Williams, who was a customer-service representative in the water department, said she retired in 2012 to a $950-a-month apartment in Phoenix near her children. She worries about medical costs, having endured several surgeries.