Pension loss less than expected

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Blair County’s retirement fund didn’t take as big of a hit as once suggested with the sale of Valley View Home.

The latest report to the retirement board, which accounts for almost all 248 former Valley View employees with county retirement plans, indicates the pension fund lost about $2.48 million in assets and retained $3.56 million.

County employees at Valley View had the option of deciding the fate of their pension plans. They could take cash, roll over their invested dollars into another retirement account or leave their dollars with the county and draw a monthly pension when appropriate.

A predicted loss of $7 million was the worst possible case, pension fund secretary and county Controller Richard J. Peo said Monday.

The county’s pension plan, which carries a balance of about $30 million, started losing assets last May as the county prepared for the sale of the home, effective June 1. The home now is owned by Reliant Senior Care of Philadelphia.

While some employees retired in anticipation of the county selling the home, the bulk of the employees made their decision after the home was sold.

Withdrawals of pension assets hit a high of $910,000 in October. But in that same month, the county added up $1.32 million in assets for former Valley View employees who made no withdrawals and either applied for retirement benefits or indicated that they will do so in the future.

Peo, who offered a report during Monday’s retirement board meeting that covered May through December activity, said that plans for pension assets of eight additional Valley View employees are pending. Six of the eight are scheduled to be processed this month, he said.

Commissioners Chairman Terry Tomassetti, a member of the county’s retirement board, said he was pleased with the amount that former Valley View employees left with the county.

“This is good for our pension plan,” he said.

The retirement board also agreed that a forthcoming $500,000 contribution into the pension plan – a result of selling Valley View Home – should be divided equally among three pension fund investment accounts. The payment is the first of four payments to be made this year to the pension plan, which will add up to a

$2 million contribution. Commissioners previously agreed to the $2 million allocation as a way to address lack of contributions in previous years.

The retirement board also agreed to set a 4 percent interest rate on employee contributions, a reduction from the current rate of 5.5 percent. The move would save the county approximately $187,000, county Finance Director Robert Kuntz calculated.

Peo, who said the rate has been 5.5 percent for at least 21 years, said he would go along with the recommended 4 percent rate because the county’s investment earnings have declined.

“It’s still a good rate,” Peo said.

Treasurer James Carothers said he agreed and that 4 percent will still be higher than what is available in the private sector.

Tomassetti and Kuntz included the lower interest rate as a suggestion that was part of a presentation they made in August to address the underfunding of the pension plan.

The reduction is a good idea under current circumstances, Tomassetti said.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.