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At the WV Legislature: Senate Pensions Committee advanced bills, including legislation addressing retired sheriff deputies and Municipal Police Officer and Firefighter Retirement System

By Autumn Shelton, WV Press Association

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Senate Pensions Committee advanced five bills on Wednesday, including one allowing retired deputy sheriff’s to become re-employed, yet still receive their full retirement benefits, and one allowing members of the Municipal Police Officer and Firefighter Retirement System to use annual or sick leave days for retirement service credit. 

The first bill advanced, engrossed HB 2900 would allow for the “conditional re-employment of retired deputy sheriff’s in the Deputy Sheriff Retirement System (DSRS),” and give them the ability to continue to receive their full retirement benefits. 

According to the bill, a retired deputy who is seeking re-employment must have been separated from their position for at least 60 days, they must not have retired due to certain disabilities, they must either be certified or eligible for recertification, and the county in which they seek re-employment must have five or fewer deputies and have been unable to fill vacant positions. 

The re-employment period of the retiree must not exceed 10 years and must cease once all vacant deputy positions have been filled, and the retired deputy “shall not again become a contributing member of the DSRS while performing services.” 

Following a question posed by Senator Michael Azinger, R-Wood, about how many counties meet the criteria of having fewer than five deputies, counsel responded they include Wirt, Pocahontas, Calhoun, Clay, Gilmer, Lincoln, Pendleton and Webster. 

Engrossed HB 2900 passed the House on Feb. 27 with 98 votes. It will now go before the full Senate for additional consideration. 

The next bill, engrossed committee substitute of HB 3148, was requested by the Municipal Pensions Oversight Board, and would prohibit municipalities from using the conservation method of financing for municipal firefighters and police officer pension relief funds. 

There are currently four methods of funding for municipal firefighters and police officer pension relief funds, according to counsel. Those include the standard method, the alternative method, the optional method and the conservation method. 

The alternative method and the conservation method are not considered “actuarially sound,” counsel explained. This bill would require municipalities using the conservation method of financing to convert to either the optional or the new optional II method by July 1, 2023. 

Blair Taylor, executive director of the Municipal Pensions and Oversight Board, testified that closing the conservation method of financing has been recommended for years.

“We looked at creating a fifth method, this optional II method, which will allow any plan choosing the conservation methodology, or the alternative methodology, to jump to an actuarially sound method of funding a plan –[that] gives a new 40 year funding methodology,” Taylor said. “I believe it’s the oversight board’s hope that more plans, more municipalities will, in fact, go to an actuarially sound method. That was the intent of putting it together.” 

This bill passed the House on Feb. 23, and is now headed before the full Senate. 

Next, the committee advanced the engrossed version of HB 3244, which would require the Municipal Pensions Oversight Board to propose legislative rules for municipalities who wish to “issue pension funding revenue bonds” and “to submit reports to the board and the Joint Committee on Government Finance,” counsel stated, adding that this reporting requirement is already in code, as is the requirement that the board approve or disapprove those sales within 60 days of receipt, but there is currently no “objective standard” for the board to use to approve or disapprove them. 

This bill is the same as Senate Bill 474, which passed the Senate on Feb. 17. This bill is headed to the full Senate for approval. 

Next, the committee advanced engrossed HB 3364, which would require the closure of certain municipal police officer and firefighter pension and relief funds “as a condition of issuance of pension funding revenue bonds.” 

“Current law allows building commissions of Class I, II, or III municipalities to issue these pension funding revenue bonds to raise funds to reduce the unfunded actuarial accrued liability of a (police officer or firefighter) pension and relief fund,” counsel stated. “This bill requires a municipality, currently funding its pension and relief funds using the alternative method of funding, to close its funds to new hires as a condition of being authorized to issue these pension funding revenue bonds.” 

This bill passed the House on Feb. 27, and is now headed to the full Senate for further consideration. 

Lastly, the committee advanced engrossed HB 3211, relating to “authorizing service credit for unused accrued annual or sick leave days for use in determining retirement benefits in the Municipal Police Officer and Firefighter Retirement System.” 

“Upon retirement, in this bill, a member in the Municipal Police Officer and Firefighter Retirement System can convert any accrued leave, that is annual or sick leave, into days of service on a two to one basis,” counsel stated. “A month of service equals 20 work days, but if the remainder after application is more than 10, then another month is added. Anything fewer than 10 is dropped. The conversion is not bound by the normal rule that a member cannot accrue more than 12 months service in a given year.” 

Following a question from Committee Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, about the history of transferring annual or sick leave into retirement days of service, Terasa Miller, deputy director and chief operating officer of the Consolidated Public Retirement Board, stated that in 2015 when Tier II was created, those members of the Public Employees Retirement System, the Teachers Retirement System and the State Police Plan B, were no longer eligible to carryover days for service credit. However, members of Tier I plans are still eligible. 

This bill will now go before the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.