Maine PERS discussed for county employees

6 mins read

FARMINGTON — Policy changes and employee benefits were among the agenda items discussed during the county commissioner meeting last week.

The commissioners will need to decide if they will opt-in to changes to the Maine Public Employees Retirement System (Maine PERS). Under the current plan, a newly hired employee has a one time only, seven-day window from the date of hire in which to enroll in Maine PERS. The new provisions, if the commissioner choose to opt-in, would allow any employee an additional opportunity to enroll in Maine PERS; it would also allow for an open enrollment period every year for the first five years of employment wherein an employee could enroll in Maine PERS. There would be budgetary impacts if employees enrolled in Maine PERS, but there are only a handful of employees who are expected to enroll if the option became available.

Also related to Maine PERS and retirement, Detective Stephen Charles requested that the commissioners spend $750 for Maine PERS to perform a study on what it would cost for three administrators and two union members to buy back lost time earned towards retirement.

In 2013, the county changed plans for law enforcement and corrections officers from a regular Maine PERS retirement plan of 25 years of service and 60 years of age, to a special plan of 25 years of service. Given the demands of the job, allowing them to retire early is a safer option. Because of how the transition was handled, some members of the sheriff’s office lost a minimum of three years of earned time towards their retirement. Charles stated that Maine PERS would not disclose the cost of buying back that time; Maine PERS required that the county commissioners authorize and pay for a study to determine that cost.

Currently, Charles will have to work for 29.5 years before being eligible for retirement. If he were able to buy back his lost time, he would get the same benefits as other employees who were hired under the special plan; he would be able to retire after 25 years of service.

The commissioners were not happy that Maine PERS required a fee to perform the study, and asked that the county staff research the issue as well. They agreed to review the issue at the next meeting.

The matter of a time clock was discussed again. A supervisor from the sheriff’s office expressed concern about utilizing a ‘real time’ time clock for the patrol division, as deputies often begin and end their shifts from home. With several deputies not having cellphone signal or computer access at their homes, logging into a virtual time clock could be challenging or inaccessible. Currently, deputies radio the dispatch center when they are ‘clocking in’ or available for service, and again when they ‘clock out’ and sign off at the end of their shift. Dispatch logs the times and provides that information for time sheets.

The ‘real time’ time clock would integrate with the payroll program and allow for easier accounting and more transparency for the auditor. The commissioners asked for more research, specifically with relation to law enforcement and patrol, to see what other patrol agencies have found for a workable solution.

With the rising number of COVID-19 cases within Franklin County, the commissioners reviewed the COVID-19 policy that had been adopted earlier in the year; they did not make any decision on whether to update the policy or not, but stated that it needed to be considered. In addition, they would consider the manner in which public meetings were held, and evaluate if a larger meeting space would be appropriate.

The treasurer’s report included information on the COVID-19 relief funds. The county is working with $2.9 million in federal funds. Of that sum, the commissioners expressed a desire to put two million in a reserve account to earn interest while they determine the best uses for the funds. The guidelines for how the funds can be spent are still unclear and continue to change; any interest earned on the funds is unencumbered funds that can be put into the regular county budget.

The remaining $900,000 could be used for a variety of high-priority projects, including the septic system at the county jail, new vehicle purchases, and some stipends for county employees. County Treasurer Pam Prodan stated that she would find more options for interest rates for the next meeting.

The commissioners met with the county’s lawyer in an executive session to discuss a pending complaint. No action was taken.

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