Macon retirees must repay city pension money after bank blunder

Some city of Macon retirees will have to repay money they received in error from Macon’s general employee pension fund.

Last year, State Street Retiree Services, the bank hired to manage the payment of benefits from the pension fund, mistakenly doubled retirees’ cost of living increase, said Reggie Moore, a Parks and Recreation administrator who is chairman of the pension board.

Retirees’ benefits normally increase by 1.5 percent every year. But late in 2008, Human Resources Director Ben Hubbard discovered that since the beginning of that year, State Street had been incorrectly paying retired city workers a 3 percent cost of living increase, officials said.

Ultimately, the mistake resulted in at least 15 months worth of overpayments — for most of 2008, plus the beginning of 2009.

The city has sent letters to those who were impacted asking that they pay the money back over the same time period.

Officials did not immediately know how many people were affected.

Retirees’ benefit checks will now show a reduction of 1.5 percent in pay, in addition to the 1.5 percent cost of living increase they receive in 2009.

Moore said even though the bank was in error, it was not possible to allow retirees to keep the extra cash they received.

“You can’t, because it impacts the pension fund,” Moore said.

Macon’s pension fund has taken its share of knocks from the economy. At its peak in 2007, the fund held some $74 million in assets. A gyrating marketplace pushed the value down to $50.7 million last November.

Councilwoman Lauren Benedict, also a pension board member and chairwoman of the council’s Employee Development and Compensation Committee, said state law forbids letting retirees keep the money they were overpaid.

She said she hopes the extended time over which they must repay the money will lessen the burden placed on them.

“They didn’t do anything to cause this,” she said. “It is unfortunate that it happened.”

Benedict said the pension board is on the verge of requesting new bids from companies interested in taking the job State Street currently holds.

That request for proposals is a direct result of State Street’s mistake, she said.

Today, the pension board will hold an informational meeting open to all employees and retirees.

The purpose is to discuss the actual state of the fund and dispel any rumors that might be circulating about its health, Moore said.

Benedict said she expects the overpayment will also be a topic.

The meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. in Ballroom A of the Wilson Convention Centre.

To contact writer Matt Barnwell, call 744-4251.