Abolished County Systems Restructured

JANUARY 2000 - Regional Retirement Boards Established - At
last, retirees of counties, that have been (or are soon to be)
abolished, know how their retirement boards will continue to operate
for them in future years. When the FY2000 budget was signed by Governor
Cellucci, it established a new comprehensive body of law (Chapter 34B)
for abolished counties. That list currently includes Middlesex,
Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire, Essex and (as of 7/1/2000) Berkshire.

There's
no question that it has taken time since the initial abolition of
Middlesex County back in 1997. Officials from abolished counties,
including Essex County Treasurer Timothy Bassett, have been among the
many affected parties working hard to create a new retirement system.

"Our
members from abolished counties will naturally be impacted, as to their
pension and insurance benefits, by legislation in this area for years
to come," states Association President Ralph White. "It goes without
saying that we've joined with others, like Treasurer Bassett and the
other county treasurers, to insure that they (retirees and survivors)
were not hurt."

County Board Makeup Changed

As
we reported earlier (July Voice), the House and Senate had a
significant disagreement over the issue of "charge-back" - whether
affected counties, in particular their towns and other subdivisions
(i.e., water/sewer, regional school districts), would have to pay
towards the pension costs of any county employees transferred to the
state retirement system. In its final version, the FY2000 budget
generally adopts the House approach that requires, through a
complicated formula, the communities in an abolished county to pay a
portion, if any, of the unfunded pension liabilities of the county
employees transferred to state government.

With
the "charge-back" issue resolved, the FY2000 budget was able to move
forward on the other issues. That included the name and structure of
the 5-member retirement board itself.

Beginning
now, the retirement systems of abolished counties will be known as
regional retirement systems, retaining the name of the former county.
For example, there is a Middlesex Regional Retirement System, with a
board bearing that same designation.

Before
the new law, the county treasurer, along with an appointee (known as
the second member) by the county commissioners, sat with 2 members,
elected from/by the system's retirees and employees, and a fifth member
elected from the county board's advisory council which comprises the
treasurers from the towns and other member units of the system. Since
the new law requires that the county treasurer's term expire on
December 31, 2002 and abolishes county commissioners, the regional
retirement board's composition had to be changed.

Under
Chapter 34B, treasurers of abolished counties will continue to serve as
board chairmen until 2003, at which time the other 4 board members will
appoint a new chairman for 3 years. Along with the treasurer, the three
elected members - two from the retirees and employees and one from the
advisory council - will serve staggered terms until successors are
elected for new 3 year terms.

As
for the county commissioners' appointee, he will continue to sit on the
board as the "new" fifth member, having swapped positions with the
advisory council's elected member, who now is considered the
"new"second member. Once the 5 (not 3) year term expires, then a new
fifth member will be chosen by the other 4 members with the proviso
that he cannot be a retiree, employee or official of the retirement
system.

Consistent with the name
change for the retirement system is the new title for its advisory
council - now known as the Regional Retirement Board Advisory Council.
The advisory council's composition, described earlier, remains the same
with the notable exception of the county treasurer no longer being a
council member.

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