Bibb pension debt affects new Macon-Bibb plan choice

Vote needed to decide police, firefighter pension rules

jgaines@macon.comDecember 6, 2013 

The pension system for Macon-Bibb County employees hired after Jan. 1, 2014, will be the same as Bibb County’s current plan.

That’s the word Friday from Ed Koebel from Cavanaugh Macdonald Consulting, who informed most of the newly elected Macon-Bibb commissioners about the plan Friday.

In fact, while existing city plans will be closed for new hires, the merged government’s pension system will be a continuation of the Bibb County plan as revised in 2011, he said.

That’s because the county’s pension fund has unfunded liabilities of nearly $37 million, and the city’s plans are well-funded, Koebel said.

“That debt is still there if you close the plan,” he said. To handle that debt, which means big payments over the first few years of the new government, the county pension system will be kept open to new employees, Koebel said.

Macon-Bibb Mayor-elect Robert Reichert said current county employees and new hires will share the cost of funding that plan, spread over 18 years. Those who are now city employees will see their plans closed to new hires.

That doesn’t mean the city pension plans are ending. Plan members will still be paid their promised benefits, but new employees can’t join, he said.

Koebel said that under the county plan, benefit payouts are capped at half of a worker’s average pay during his or her final three years on the job. Recipients will also get Social Security, he said. There’s no annual cost-of-living adjustment built into the county’s pension plan, but that doesn’t prevent commissioners from later approving one, Koebel said.

Macon now has two pension plans: one for general employees which is a supplement to Social Security, and one for police and firefighters that is a substitute for Social Security. Within two years of the new government’s beginning, pension attorney Patti Keesler told the group, there will have to be a referendum of police and firefighters on whether they want to join Social Security or remain in a Social Security replacement pension system. That’s required because the current Social Security replacement agreements with the Internal Revenue Service expire with the formation of the new government, she said.

“We were certainly hoping this would not be the answer, but this was the one we got after months of asking,” Keesler said.

The decision for all involved will be made by majority vote, and the result will be made retroactive to Jan. 1, 2014, she said.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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