Blair seeking pension plan study

HOLLIDAYSBURG — The Blair County Retirement Board is interested in a study of pension plan participants that could affect the plan’s solvency and the county’s annual contribution.

The board recently advised secretary and county Controller A.C. Stickel to ask CBIZ Retirement Services to provide the cost of an experience study with local information and historical data.

While CBIZ tracks national and state data on life expectancy, retirement dates and inflation rates which factor into pension plan contribution rates, Stickel said he sees a value in asking for information reflective of the county’s plan and its participants.

“We don’t know our life expectancy,” Stickel said.

An experience study could help identify that, plus county-related information reflecting salary levels, retirement dates and investment returns, relevant factors in the financial status of a pension plan.

This information, Stickel told the board, might decrease the county’s annual recommended contribution now exceeding $6 million. Or it might increase it, he quickly added.

“At the very least, it could make it more accurate,” said Commissioner Laura Burke, who chaired the recent retirement board meeting in the absence of Chairman Bruce Erb.

Stickel said he thought the cost of the study would be less than $15,000. But CBIZ will have to define the scope of work involved with collecting this data, he said.

If a price is identified by Feb. 6, then the retirement board will be ready to vote on the pursuit at that time, with the cost to be paid by the pension plan.

County leaders have pursued pension plan improvements in recent years, and as of July, insolvency had been pushed back from 2026 to 2047. With a desire to push it back further, commissioners settled on budgeting $4.5 million in general fund revenue toward the pension fund. While that falls short of the $6 million-plus recommendation, it was $300,000 more than the county allocated in 2019.

Stickel also told the retirement board at its recent meeting that based on the $3.5 million allocation for 2020, he expects to be transferring $375,000 every month into the pension fund. But January and February’s transfers may hold until March, he said, after general fund tax revenue becomes available.

A report on the 2019 contributions also showed county employees providing $945,971 to the pension plan, which typically averages about $33 million. That same report listed $7.49 million in pension fund disbursements, which includes monthly benefit payments, rollover payments and refunds.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.