A Look At Pensions In A County Retirement System

JULY 2006 - In recent articles, we have been looking at the salaries and pensions of various communities and the correlation between salaries and pensions.

Unlike previous articles where we focused on a particular city or town which has its own retirement system, this month we are looking at the demographics of a county retirement system – Norfolk County.

Although all cities have their own retirement systems, the vast majority of towns, especially small towns, do not have their own retirement system, but rather have chosen to participate in their county or regional retirement system.

For these towns, there is a cost-savings because the county or regional retirement boards administer the retirement plan and each town pays a share of the Board’s expenses in addition to its assessment of pension costs.

In addition to the towns, there are also county employees and retirees who are members of the system plus a number of housing authorities and other small units.

Norfolk County was recently listed as the 10th wealthiest county in the country. With affluent towns such as Wellesley, Needham, Brookline, Westwood, Cohasset  and Dover that may be true, but it’s not reflected in public salaries. The first three named communities have their own retirement systems, therefore cannot be counted in the county retirement data, nor can Weymouth, Milton, Quincy, Braintree, Dedham and Norwood, each with its own retirement system.

Most recent data (January 1, 2005) compiled by the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission show that despite Norfolk County’s supposed wealth, the average salary of an employee belonging to the County System is a modest $34,965.

This is in contrast to the average state employees’ salary of $46,914 and an average teachers’ salary of $52,743. On the other hand. it is in the same ballpark as an estimated average municipal salary of $35,000.

The System’s pensions, which average $16,262, are also pretty close to the figure for retirement systems whose salaries average $35,000. State pensions average $20,513 and Teachers $29,182, demonstrating the correlation of salaries and pensions.

An interesting statistic is the number of retirees over age 90. There are 89 pensions in this age group, 3.2% of the total. This mirrors the 3.6% in the State System and 3.4% in the Teachers’ System. Fifteen years ago, the percentage of retirees over age 90 was 2.1%. Yes, retirees are living longer.

Rapidly growing Franklin and Randolph, both with populations of 32,000 are the largest towns in the System, with Avon, population 4,423, the smallest. Several years ago Foxboro talked about forming its own retirement system in conjunction with neighboring towns, but the movement never got off the ground.

“Community leaders in Norfolk County realize the best service and financial arrangement is maintaining their membership in the County System,” said Association President Ralph White. “Around the state, towns in county systems occasionally grouse about their system, but it’s to their advantage to stay the course.”