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January 31, 2014

County gets healthy pension fund report

NEW CASTLE — Lawrence County government’s retirement fund had a prosperous 2013.

At the beginning of last year, the account held $47,303,321, county controller David Gettings reported.

As of Jan. 1, the fund held $54,548,545, an increase of 15.3 percent, he said, adding, “The market had a very good year.”

Gettings said the experts believe this year will not be as good.

“It won’t be a 15 to 20 percent year, but hopefully it will be upper percentage single digits,” he said, adding, “Time will tell.”

“That’s crystal ball stuff,” Commissioner Steve Craig commented. “If we had another year like 2013, we would have the potential to be 100 percent funded.”

“I’m not willing to say that,” Gettings responded.

The county paid out $2,911,158 in monthly annuities in 2013, $18,102 in death benefits, $129,027 in administrative expenses and $204,628 in refunds and rollover, Gettings reported.

The retirement board, comprised of the three commissioners, Gettings and Treasurer Richard Rapone, also approved the rate of interest credited to member accounts at 4.25 percent.

Gettings reported on changes in management of the pension fund that occurred last year.

The funds previously were managed by Merrill Lynch, but at that company’s request, it no longer is in charge, he said.

The fund’s new custodian is First National Wealth Management and its investment consultant is the Peirce Park Group based in West Chester, Pa.

The board took no action on granting a cost-of-living increase to pensioners, because the county will have to pay about $1,454,704 into the retirement fund this year, Gettings said.

That is down only slightly from the county’s obligation last year of $1.5 million.

This year’s contribution includes $1,121,185 from the general fund and the rest from county agencies that get state and federal funding, such as children and youth services and mental health/developmental services, he said.

State law says the county would have to pay the cost-of-living for past years also, back to the last time the cost of living raise was given, Gettings said. That was in 2007.

That could cost about $3 million, he estimated, which the county cannot afford.

If the Legislature would say the county can pay it from here forward, that would be different, he said.

“But unfortunately, it’s going to be the same reason every year until the state changes the law.”

The county has nearly 300 retirees drawing on their pensions, including 17 retirements last year.

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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