County continues to discuss Maine PERS options

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FARMINGTON — Revoking an earlier decision, the Franklin County commissioners voted, two to one, in favor of a Maine Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) study for five members of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department.

Detective Stephen Charles spoke with the commissioners on October 5, presenting additional information on the issue. In a prior meeting the commissioners voted against spending $750 for Maine PERS to contract a study on the cost associated with five employees buying back time towards their retirement. Following that decision, Maine PERS offered to cover the cost of performing the study. Sheriff Scott Nichols approved it, but it still required approval from the county commissioners.

Commissioner Terry Brann said he did not see the point of performing the study when he would not support the anticipated expense of buying back the time.

The five employees — Detective Charles, a patrol sergeant, the patrol lieutenant, the chief deputy, and the Criminal Investigation Division lieutenant — were unable to join the Law Enforcement retirement plan offered by Maine PERS when the county first joined Maine PERS. At the time they were under the regular county plan which includes an age requirement. The current plan for the sheriff’s department does not include an age requirement, only twenty-five service years.

Because of complications when the new plan was implemented, these five officers lost service years and will have to serve more than twenty-five years before they are eligible for retirement.

“It’s not an old man’s business,” Charles said.

The cost for the county is not known at this time. The study would find answers to that question. In addition, if the commissioners agreed to the buy-back, the money would not have to come out in a lump sum; it could be portioned out annually, the same as the other deputies receive.

“I personally have given twenty-one years of my life to this county,” Charles said. “I’m just asking is for that twenty-one years to count as twenty-one years.”

Since Maine PERS agreed to cover the cost of the study, Commissioners Lance Harvill and Clyde Barker voted in favor of performing it, while Commissioner Brann opposed.

Revisiting the optional provision for Maine PERS open enrollment, the commissioners voted against adopting the additional provision. Brann felt that it would cost too much money. Harvill said that, while he was unsure how he felt about the sheriff’s office request for Maine PERS, the employees in question already had the opportunity to sign up for Maine PERS retirement. The commissioners voted unanimously against the open enrollment period.

Unlike the employees at the sheriff’s office, these employees were presented with the opportunity to join when they were hired, and the commissioners voted unanimously to not adopt the new provisions.

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