Investments shore up pension fund

Blair County still paying out more than taking in

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Strong investment returns are helping shore up Blair County’s underfunded pension plan, county retirement board members said Thursday. But that’s not a reason, they agreed, to scale back efforts aimed at strengthening the plan.

“We’re still continuing to pay out more than we’re taking in,” county Controller and Retirement Board Secretary A.C. Stickel said Thursday where the retirement board reviewed reports during its monthly meeting.

Those reports showed that the county’s general fund, for the first six months of the year, contributed $1.4 million to the pension fund and the county employees made contributions of $467,508.

By the end of the year, the county’s general fund contribution is expected to reach $4.2 million and the county employees’ contributions will likely double to around $900,000 — adding up to about $5.1 million.

But checks issued by the retirement fund, by the end of 2019, will likely exceed the $5.1 million if monthly distributions mirror those made in the first half of 2019.

Between January and June, retirement board reports show the retirement fund issued checks adding up to $3.62 million. Those checks included payments to current retirees plus payments to employees eligible to make monetary withdrawals because of job changes or retirement. Monthly payouts typically range between $560,000 to $620,000.

Within the next couple of months, the retirement board is expected to make a recommendation to the commissioners on a proposed pension fund contribution for 2020, so that recommendation can be worked into a draft budget.

The $4.2 million budgeted for 2019, as recommended by the retirement board, was a 5 percent increase over the 2018 contribution.

“Even though the market is doing better, that’s not a reason to cut back on the contribution,” Commis­sioner Bruce Erb, who chairs the retirement board, said during Thursday’s meeting.

While commissioners kept 2019 real estate taxes at 2018 levels, they named the underfunded pension plan as a major factor contributing to real estate tax increases levied in 2017 and 2018.

In September 2018, actuary Alvin Winters of CBIZ Retirement Services reported to the retirement board that the steps taken by the county had pushed the fund’s insolvency from 2026 to 2047.

An updated actuary report will be prepared for the retirement board’s use in making a recommendation for 2020. The county’s investment fund adviser, Patrick Wing, is also expected to attend the August retirement board meeting and offer updates on the assets within the pension fund generally valued around $33 million.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.