Augusta pension committee agrees to review retirement plan

Facing an audience of Augusta public safety workers concerned about their retirement plans, the city pension and audit committee agreed Tuesday to go over the plan’s details and survey workers for changes they want to see.

 

Michael Tomaszewski, an Augusta fire lieutenant who spoke on behalf of the workers, detailed in charts the higher risks public safety workers face and their desire for fairness in benefits among all workers.

“Increased cancer rates, years of potential life lost, a rate of PTSD which unfortunately rivals the military, and perhaps saddest of all, nationwide, more than twice as many public safety personnel commit suicide each year as die in the line of duty,” Tomaszewski said.

The group wants the city to take an in-depth look at its Georgia Municipal Employee Benefits System plan and to include public safety stakeholders in the discussion, he said.

Unlike many government retirement programs, the plan is in good shape financially, plan actuary Rocky Joyner said earlier in the meeting.

With nearly 92 percent of projected benefits already funded by city and employee contributions, the plan is “one of the best funded plans in the state of Georgia,” Joyner said.

As far as benefits go, “it’s a good plan. It’s not a Cadillac plan; it’s a good solid plan,” he said.

While the public safety workers had sought to use a higher multiplier of 2 percent or 2.5 percent in calculating their retirement benefits, Joyner said all but about 16 of Augusta’s 2,293 GMEBS participants under the existing plan would have their benefits calculated by a multiplier other than 1.65 percent.

The 1.65 percent multiplier, applied against an employee’s final average salary and years of service, is “in the middle of the pack for (Georgia Municipal Association) cities,” he said.

An earlier GMEBS 2 plan that uses a 2.5 percent multiplier was a “completely separate plan that planning and zoning had for their very small pool of employees,” Finance Director Donna Williams said. The workers hadn’t paid into Social Security and the plan was closed in 2006, she said.

Commissioner Sean Frantom made a motion to “review the benefits plan that hadn’t been reviewed in 10 years,” and Commissioner Sammie Sias suggested using an ongoing compensation study being done by the Archer Company to gather the additional information.

Frantom also asked about the impact of adjusting employee contributions, saying increasing them to six percent could save Augusta taxpayers $1.5 million. Joyner said the current city contribution of 4.63 percent and employee contribution of four percent was a “pretty decent balance” but the city could tweak the numbers to improve the plan consistent with Georgia laws governing funding retirement plans, or could even add incentives to it if it wanted employees to retire sooner.

Joyner said the study data would allow him to return with a “shopping list of potential changes.” The committee, which includes the mayor, mayor pro tem, finance director, finance committee chairman and administrator, voted 5-0 to approve Frantom’s motion.

Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or susan.mccord@augustachronicle.com.

 

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