“Is it authorized?” County just isn’t taking motion to refinance its retirement plan in the interim, which might price $ 1.9 million: NorthEscambia.com
The Escambia County Commission took no formal action on Thursday evening to repay up to $ 1.9 million in lost retirement income for commissioners and senior officials after allegedly never being told of a retirement plan option. The discussion had a commissioner ask if the withdrawal is legal and one officer said she controls the county’s checkbook but does not like the idea.
401 (a) Retirement Program
It is known as the 401 (a) annuity program and is only offered to senior management employees and commissioners who opt out of the Florida Retirement System (FRS) under state law. It is available nationwide, not just in Escambia County.
The plan does not cost Escambia County’s taxpayers any additional charges if contributions are made on time; employee contributions are exactly the same regardless of whether or not the money goes into FRS or the pension program. FRS has a significant administrative burden and fund liability that is financed from employee contributions. Participants in Pension Plan 401 (a) do not pay these overheads, so participants can earn significantly more retirement benefits.
Escambia County has offered a 401 (a) retirement program for senior management and elected officials since 1997.
Employees not informed about the program
Many staff, as well as current and past commissioners, said they were never informed of the existence of the pension plan and lost substantial pension funds as a result.
In March, Commissioner Steven Barry and District Attorney Alison Rogers tried the ethics committee on retirement planning. There were no allegations of ethical misconduct against Barry, Rogers or anyone else; instead, they asked the BOCC for permission to vote on the retirement plan.
Barry alleged that following his first election in 2012, the county human resources department had not told him, other commissioners and other eligible county employees about the existence of a 401 (a) retirement plan, only the normal FRS plan. He said he didn’t know about the plan until months after his second term, after a six-month grant period. He registered at the beginning of his third term.
Commissioners, including Barry, are signing pension plan enrollment forms to choose between six options. One option is to “withdraw from the Florida Retirement System to join a local retirement plan”. Barry has claimed that this does not provide any real information about the 401 (a) plan, its benefits, and its earnings potential.
“Is it legal”
Barry asked the ethics committee if the county board could vote on a settlement plan that would allow payments to be made to him, other commissioners, and other county employees who were not informed of the pension plan by the county HR department. The ethics committee agreed for the district committee to vote on the payment of lost revenue from the 401 (a) plan to affected commissioners and district employees.
That payout could go up to $ 1.9 million, including just over $ 225,000 each for Barry and Commissioner Lumon May.
“I want to support. It’s a hell of a lot of money, ”said Commissioner Jeff Bergosh. “I’m angry that people weren’t told about this. It’s not right … I need to know it’s legal, but I don’t have a warm and fuzzy feeling. “
“I just have to ask the lawyer, is that legal?” Asked Bergosh.
District Attorney Alison Rogers will submit her own legal opinion to the board at a later date, along with at least one other legal opinion. Rogers is eligible to participate in the retirement program but has advised the board that it will not switch to a 401 (a) plan or accept back payments.
Barry said he understood Bergosh’s request for definitive answers on the legality of the 401 (a) Settlement.
“I appreciate the support of the majority of my colleagues tonight. In any case, I am interested in moving forward with the discussion on fairness and justice that we have had tonight, but I absolutely support Commissioner Bergosh’s idea of making a final decision on the legality of any resolution to be presented to the Bureau, “said Barry after meeting NorthEscambia.
“I keep the checkbook for this county”
“I answer Governor DeSantis and I answer the people,” said Pam Childers, Escambia County’s clerk and auditor, after the commission discussion. “I really have to look carefully. I am currently not comfortable with refinancing the pension for commissions or the employees.
“I’m not comfortable with this at this point, and I hold the checkbook for this county,” Childers concluded.
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