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MW council gets input from state on retirement

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By Mallory Bilger

MOUNT WASHINGTON — The debate surrounding the city’s police new-hires and hazardous duty pensions continued last Monday as council members heard a presentation by the city’s Kentucky Retirement System Field Representative, Rich Mardis.

Mardis was invited to speak by Mayor Joetta Calhoun after council member Barry Armstrong requested that a KRS representative come and address some of the council’s unanswered questions about hazardous duty pensions, including how much hazardous duty retirement would cost the city in the coming years.

The city — along with all other city and county agencies — is dealing with the issue of hazardous duty retirement because in 2008 the legislature approved a stricter definition of what positions could be classified as hazardous duty.

As of Sept. 1, 2008, any state agency hiring a new employee into a hazardous duty retirement position must petition through the state to have that employee’s position approved into the system.

Employees hired before Sept. 1, 2008, that were already classified as hazardous duty under the state will continue to receive hazardous duty retirement without petitioning.

Mardis was unable to give definite projections about how much exactly the city would have to contribute to hazardous duty pensions, which, at this point, would only affect two officers. The rest of the city’s force was already in the retirement system prior to Sept. 2008 and legislature’s new definition doesn’t apply to it.

He said the only way to know for certain what the employer’s contribution rate would be was to wait for the KRS Board of Trustees to meet this month and set that rate.

“There’s been numerous projections,” Mardis said. “All projections are hypothetical.”

However, Mardis said the most recent projections for future employer contributions are actually lower than originally estimated. Some early projections estimated that in the coming years employers could be contributing as much as 50 to 100 percent of an employee’s annual salary.

The city currently contributes 32.97 percent of a hazardous duty employee’s salary to the state retirement fund and 16.16 percent of a non-hazardous duty employee’s salary.

But Mardis explained that no matter what, the employer contribution would rise, just maybe not as much as initially projected.

He said the state faces a two-fold problem with its retirement system, including a health insurance liability required by federal government that must be funded in the next 10 years and an investment pool that has taken big hits because of the economic recession.

“Since 9-11 it has been an up and down kind of thing,” he said.

Mardis said the biggest advantage to employees like officers who qualify for hazardous duty retirement was that they can retire earlier than non-hazardous employees. He said the benefits for employees killed in the line of duty were the same for hazardous and non-hazardous employees, although it is harder for non-hazardous employees to qualify for death in the line of duty benefits.

Councilman Barry Armstrong said his opinion had been misunderstood during the hazardous duty retirement debate.

“I am not opposed to our police having hazardous duty,” Armstrong said. “I’m just not comfortable sitting here voting on that not knowing what it’s going to cost us.”

Councilman Dale Walter said previously he believed the city wouldn’t have a problem funding the officers’ hazardous duty retirement. In a later interview, Walter said he wanted to move forward with a vote and move on to other issues.

“This has gone on long enough and we want to have it done,” Walter said, who supports hazardous duty retirement for all officers.

Councilman Dennis Griffin, who has been a strong proponent to get all officer positions approved for hazardous duty retirement, said he wanted a resolution and an ordinance drafted that would instruct the city to petition the KRS for all newly created police positions to be classified as hazardous duty.

He said he would like both the resolution and the ordinance available for reading at the council’s next meeting on Nov. 9. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at the city hall annex on Branham Way. The public is invited to attend.