Griffin Board of Commissioners to vote on retirement plan tonight

SHEILA A. MATHEWS :::

The city of Griffin Board of Commissioners will on Tuesday, Nov. 28, determine whether it will establish a retirement plan for individuals elected or appointed to serve on that governing body.

According to Griffin City Manager Kenny Smith, the retirement plan for commissioners has been in under consideration for some time.

“We’ve been talking about pretty much all year long, looking at the commissioners’ pay and benefits. There was some discussion about whether to give them an increase in pay, but some of them didn’t want to do that, so we were looking at benefits, but I don’t remember when all this started or how it came about, but I think HR said one of the things you can do – one of the benefits they’re not eligible for is retirement – so you could give them a small retirement,” Smith said. “We looked at all the other cities to see who did that and who didn’t, and I think a little over half of the cities include their elected officials in retirement, so that was discussed. We went to GMEBS’ (Georgia Municipal Employees Benefit System) retirement people with GMA (Georgia Municipal Association) and had an actuarial study done, found out how much it was going to cost, and we talked about it some more, and then we decided to put it on as an option – when we changed the employees’ plan, that we would also include that in the change.”

The proposed change would increase the city employees’ retirement plan from 1.5 to 2 percent, and would be based on the average of each individual employee’s income for the five years immediately preceding retirement.

The proposed retirement plan for city commissioners is $25 per month per year of service. This benefit would be provided at the age of 65, and commissioners would be vested after eight years in office.

Regular full-time employees are vested after ten years of service, and full retirement eligibility is age 65.

Public safety employees follow the Rule of 75, with full retirement eligibility is based on the minimum age of 50, with the requirement that the employee’s age and years of service total a minimum of 75.

Smith said the city’s research concluded that the salary provided to city of Griffin commissioners is commensurate with comparable cities, but that approximately half of Georgia’s municipalities also provide a retirement plan for commissioners.

Asked if commissioners will be required to pay into the retirement plan, Smith said, “That was not part of the proposal, no.”

When questioned as to why that is not part of the proposal, Smith said, “It just wasn’t part of the proposal. I mean, the employees haven’t paid into it up until now – up until we upped it. One of the concessions we made in upping it was that the employees are now going to contribute two percent, but the employees have never contributed to it before until this change.”

The increase in the regular employees’ retirement plan from 1.5 to two percent includes a mandatory two percent employee contribution. In addition, the city will no longer contribute to employees’ individual retirement plans.

Previously, the city matched employee contributions up to two percent, but with the .5 percent increase, that two percent will be reallocated from individual retirement accounts to the city’s retirement plan.

“They’ve had the option to put money into a 457 (plan), but not into retirement. Retirement’s always been 100 percent funded by the city up until this change. We polled the employees, and the employees were willing to put in two percent additional to move it up from 1 ½ to two, and they gave up – in the past, we have matched what they put in to their 457 (plan) up to two percent, so we’re using that match, as well. So, it’s costing the city about one-half of one percent for the employees, and it’s costing us like 0.14 percent to add the commissioners,” Smith explained. “They’re (regular employees) paying two (percent) of their money and they’re giving up their city match of two percent, so the city is actually paying the other two percent, but it was in the form of a match if they put in two. It’s the city’s money. It’s just we were matching their two, and now we’re putting it towards the difference.”

The determined actuarial costs of the proposed commissioners’ retirement plan is $23,745, Smith said.

That actuarial cost, as determined by GMEBS, is nearly 25.7 percent of the commissioners’ current annual salary $92,400 for the seven elected officials, or $13,200 each.

Regarding the commissioners not paying into the retirement plan, Smith said he is unable to say if that is the standard statewide.

“I don’t know that I can answer that. I don’t know,” he said. “I would probably guess, no more than elected officials make, I mean, they only make, I don’t know off the top of my head, but say they make $14,000, $15,000 a year, it’s really not worth…I mean, if you get a percentage of that salary, you’re really not getting a whole lot to go toward it, so…You’ve got to figure what they make, but of course, they knew what the pay was when they ran for the position. So, I mean, you can argue that all day long, you know – they all know what the pay is when they run, but it is what it is, and you know, if they were to vote themselves a raise, everybody’d be jumping up and down, so what do you do? Do you just leave the pay the same forever and ever? I don’t know how you battle that discussion. I know they spend a lot more hours than people realize on this job, and they don’t get paid a lot for it, because I know how many hours they put in.”

Asked if he considers the office of city commissioner to be a full-time position, Smith said, “Oh, no. It’s not necessarily 40 hours a week. It depends on the commissioner.”

He went on to say, “Some of them it’s a daily thing. It’s not just a board meeting every two weeks, I can guarantee you that. If they got paid by the hour, it would probably be less than minimum wage.”

Smith said no consideration was given to offering retirement benefits to the city’s part-time employees.”

Asked if he supports the inclusion of city commissioners in the retirement plan, Smith said, “It’s not my call. They’re my boss, so whatever the seven of them say. It’s outside my purview. I think no more than what it costs, it’s beneficial to them.”

When asked if it is beneficial to the city of Griffin and Griffin residents, Smith said, “Well, hopefully it will help us recruit people interested in serving their community. I mean, we don’t have an abundance of people lining up to run for commissioner, so hopefully the more opportunities they have to get something out of it, the more people will be interested in serving. I mean, it’s the same way with the employees. I mean, we battle for employees all the time, and the more salary and benefits…you’ve got to remember that we depend a lot on volunteers out there that do a lot of stuff in the community, so any way we can enhance our relationships and get better quality people from an employee standpoint, an elected official standpoint and a volunteer standpoint, that’s what we need to do.”

Questioned about the equitability of a proposal that makes commissioners vested after eight years when it requires ten years for regular employees, Smith said, “I don’t really have an opinion on that. Eight years was just based on two terms. You could have picked any number out, but eight years was just based on two terms of service, so you could make it anything you want to make it.”

This proposal is scheduled to be voted on tonight during the Griffin Board of Commissioners 6 p.m. meeting.

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