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Article 24
  • December 14. 2005 12:00AM

    Commissioners to get retirement benefits
    County GOP executive committee is opposed

    By ERIC FRAZIER
    The Dispatch


    The Republican-dominated Davidson County Board of Commissioners has approved a retirement plan for elected officials that is opposed by the county's Republican Party executive committee.

    In a 4-3 vote Tuesday night, the commissioners adopted retirement benefits proposed by Vice Chairman Larry Potts. Voting with him for the plan were Cindy Akins, Fred Sink and Max Walser, the lone Democrat on the board.

    Chairman Fred McClure, Don Truell and Sam Watford voted against the plan.

    But while the commissioners were debating the measure, the Davidson County Republican Party executive committee was meeting elsewhere and unanimously approved the following resolution:

    "The Davidson County Republican Party strongly objects to any consideration of a retirement incentive for County Commissioners. If passed this 13th day of December 2005, we ask that it be immediately repealed at the next business meeting as we do not feel it is in the best interest of the county."

    In the same statement released by party Chairman David Rickard, he called the timing of the proposal "ill advised" given local economic conditions.

    "The county has limited resources and it just seems that this money could be used for more pressing needs," Rickard stated.

    Executive committee member Larry Allen added, "I recall that just a few months ago the commissioners were discussing how to hold the line on employee benefits by shifting more of the insurance premiums to county employees ,and now they consider a sweet retirement deal for themselves."

    The commissioners meet next on Jan. 5, but the issue appears unlikely to be revisited.

    "That decision has no weight whatsoever with me," Potts said this morning. "... If Mr. Rickard and the executive committee wants to run for commissioner, they picked an interesting time to announce. The filing, I believe, begins in February. Until then, they need to stick to party issues."

    McClure also said it was a done deal.

    "I will not call for it to be rescinded," he said. "If one of the four commissioners that voted for it brings it up, that's a different story."

    Under the approved plan, a commissioner who serves eight years (two terms) will become eligible to receive, at age 60, an amount calculated at 3.75 percent times his or her highest annual compensation times the years of creditable service. The benefit is capped at 40 percent of highest annual compensation.

    The plan is retroactive to 1990, making three former commissioners, Brown Loflin, Reid Sink and Billy Joe Kepley, immediately eligible. Their service ranged from eight years to 14 years, producing annual benefit amounts of more than $4,000 to more than $5,800. Altogether, the cost to the county, including Social Security taxes, will be $15,233 annually.

    According to Assistant County Manager Zeb M. Hanner, the county now sends roughly $1.8 million each year to the state-sponsored local government retirement plan. Employees contribute 6.4 percent of their pay, which the county matches. However, under the new plan for the commissioners, there is no employee contribution.

    Potts, McClure and Sink already meet the eight-year minimum. Akins will also have eight years when her term expires next year. She is 41.

    Potts is 57, McClure is 63 and Fred Sink is 73. All three were elected last year to four-year terms that expire in 2008. At that time, the cost to the county could potentially double, but any commissioner may opt out of the plan by signing a waiver.

    After sending his colleagues a letter and other documents explaining the retirement plan, Potts had it placed on the consent agenda, which is used to approve multiple items in a single vote without further discussion.

    That didn't sit well with Truell, who asked for the item to be pulled even before the board reached that part of the regular agenda.

    "I didn't want the newspapers to say tomorrow morning that we passed a retirement plan in the consent agenda," he said. "I just feel that any issue of this magnitude should not be put on the consent agenda."

    Among the questions Truell, McClure and Watford raised were why it was retroactive to 1990, why the retirement age was set at 60 and how many counties offer similar benefits.

    "I just picked the date as what I felt would be a fair time," Potts replied.

    McClure said he contacted the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, but they do not keep those statistics. He noted that state legislators have been considering a plan that would extend the state retirement system to county and municipal elected leaders. He argued for waiting to hear that plan, which he said is expected next year.

    "I still feel like this is a part-time position," Watford said, noting that most part-time county workers are not eligible for retirement benefits.

    Potts, returning a call this morning between two meetings, said he has attended 158 meetings so far this year, not counting other trips to the governmental center to sign papers or pick up mail and other documents.

    He noted that commissioners have tended to be either self-employed or retired people because of the time demands of the office and called the plan a recruitment tool that will help attract qualified candidates to run.

    Eric Frazier can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 226, or eric.frazier@the-dispatch.com.


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