Bibb to look at pension plan changes

Bibb County government may begin easing itself out of the pension business, with plans to offer 401(k) or other retirement plans as early as January.

The shift could mean more money for employees and fewer headaches for government — while potentially making it easier for Bibb County and Macon governments to share employees and services, said Marilu Cowan, Bibb County’s human resources director.

No transition would be fast. Current employees would still get pensions until they die. But Cowan said traditional pensions are awkward in an age when people change jobs often and the pensions require costly overhead.

“The expense of it is incredible,” she said. With another retirement program, “You can push more of the funds to the employees instead of to the actuaries and the administration.”

Commissioners voted Tuesday to hire Aon Corp. on a $69,500 contract to review the county’s current benefits. The consultants are expected to recommend specifics, such as whether current employees on a pension should be able to contribute to the new retirement plan.

But Bibb County hopes that Macon’s government may sign on to the study and adopt similar retirement offerings. Cowan said if the two governments adopt comparable offerings, it would be easier to move people between governments or departments.

City and county government are already studying ways to share services, and similarities between retirement plans, health plans and other benefits would make changes easier, officials said.

If the Bibb changes are approved, Cowan said she expects employees hired Jan. 1 or later would fall under the new retirement plan instead of the pension. Commissioners may vote for a change after Aon completes its study.

Mayoral spokesman Andrew Blascovich said Mayor Robert Reichert is eyeing changes to employee benefits, but no action by the city has been taken.

“It’s still in the idea stage of what we can do,” Blascovich said.

Pensions offer defined benefits, with retirement bringing in a predictable amount of money each month. Newer retirement plans such as the 401(k) or 403(b) use defined contributions, in which employees chip in a certain amount each month or each paycheck.

Macon and Bibb County each run a pair of pension programs: one for most employees, and one for public safety personnel.

Cowan said it wouldn’t be practical to try to merge any of those existing plans, so pensions will remain for decades.

“If you start trying to combine pension plans, it would probably be easier to solve the trade difference between China and the U.S. They’re just impossible,” she said.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.