County considers dramatic changes in pension program

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By Nick Nunn Staff Writer

The Morgan County Board of Commissioners voted in favor of exploring alternate funding in the amount of approximately $2,500,000 for the purpose of bringing the county’s current retirement plan with the Government Employees Benefit Corporation of Georgia (GEBCorp) to 100 percent funding.

Currently, a portion of the retirement benefits that the county pays goes into making their retirement plan fully funded.

This method of paying the plan relies on actuarial assumptions provided by GEBCorp and leads to an approximate interest rate of 7.75 percent on the remaining balance of the fund.

County Manager Michael Lamar stated that he has been looking into ways of borrowing money in order to payoff the remaining balance $2,500,000 and receive a lower interest rate.

Lamar stated that the county should be able to obtain an interest rate of less than 5 percent by financing the balance through alternative means.

Morgan County Attorney Christian Henry noted that the BOC will not be able to create a long-term debt of greater than a year without voter approval.

The BOC also voted in favor of only offering a defined contribution retirement plan for all new county employees beginning Jan. 1, 2014. Lamar stated that a defined contribution plan is “a lot like a 401k.”

The employee will pay a mandatory 3 percent of their earnings per paycheck into the program, and the employer, Morgan County in this case, will match the amount contributed by the employee.

Lamar also mentioned the possibility of having the county pay an additional 4 percent into the employee’s retirement plan if the employee decides to contribute an additional 2 percent for their part.

If the employee decided to pay the additional 2 percent for a total of a 5 percent per paycheck, the county’s contribution would be a total of 7 percent of the employee’s paycheck, which, according to Lamar, would still be lower than the 9 to 10 percent that the county currently pays.

That decrease would mean a 2 to 3 percent decrease in the county’s regular payroll, which currently totals approximately $220,000 every two weeks. Regarding county retirement benefits, the BOC also voted to eliminate the current $25,000 early death benefit and, in its stead, augmenting the current life policy from Aetna from $25,000 to $50,000.

Also the BOC approved freezing the retirement contributions for the positions of tax commissioner and magistrate judge beginning Jan. 1, 2014.

Finance Director Lori Sayer stated during the meeting that there has been a decrease in sales tax during the last year, leading to lower LOST and SPLOST contributions.

She speculated that abuses of the Georgia Agriculture Tax Exemption (GATE) program, which began on Jan. 1 2013 and offers a sales tax exemption to qualified farmers and agricultural producers on agricultural equipment and supplies.

Commissioner Andrew Ainslie asked Sayer how they would be able to find out if GATE misuses were leading to the lower sales tax revenue, and Sayer said that she would look into it.

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