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WV Legislative Interims: Committee on Pensions and Retirement gets an updates on benefits

WV Press Staff Report

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Pensions and Retirement this week heard a review of several benefits currently available – as well as potentially available in the future –  to public employees.

The meeting’s first presenter, Austin McVey, Social Security director and accounting manager for the West Virginia State Auditor’s Office, provided a review of the state’s plan to extend social security benefits to members of the Municipal Police Officers and Firefighters Retirement System (MPFRS). 

“There are some cities who have police officers and firefighters who are under the Police and Firefighters Municipal Retirement System,” McVey began. “Under that system, unlike PERS (Public Employees Retirement System), they are not paying into social security.”

McVey explained that recent legislation has allowed individual police and fire departments to decide, by majority vote, whether or not they wish to participate in social security. McVey further explained that the State Auditor is the government agency tasked with facilitating the social security program. 

“We have been contacting the eligible cities,” McVey said. “We’ve tried to do trainings and outreach. We’ve already held one of these votes in Elkins, and they voted […] unanimous. They are going to start paying into social security.”

“With that being said, we’ve (also) talked to a lot of the bigger cities, and we are in the process of setting up these votes,” McVey continued. “With Charleston, we’re expecting 192 employees to be affected by this. And then we have places like Parkersburg, which has 46 total. It varies by the city.”

McVey noted that Oct. 1, 2024 is the deadline for municipalities wishing to participate in social security. 

At the end of McVey’s presentation, Committee Chair. Sen. Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, asked, “On a scale of one to ten, our hitting that date right now – where is your confidence level?”

“I think we can do it easy,” McVey replied.

Next before the committee was Russell Emerich, vice president of the West Virginia 911 Council, to provide an update of the proposed “Emergency Services Retirement System Act.”

If enacted, the Emergency Services Retirement System Act would allow new 911 center employees to join the EMS Retirement System.

“This is a single legislative item, but it’s really our largest, most important item that comes up every month at our council meetings,” Emerich said. “We only have nine (911) centers out of 51 that have not signed up yet. It’s really a fairness issue for them. They have a hard time telling their existing employees, ‘Look, you’re going to have access to this retirement system that makes sense for you, but all of the people that have stuck with us for ten years don’t.”

“But as far as numbers, we have nearly 85% of existing employees of 911 centers that have opted in,” Emerich added. 

Sen. Ben Queen, R-Harrison, then asked if there were any changes made to the proposed legislation since the conclusion of the previous legislative session. 

“I know there was a technical thing that kind of opted all of the counties in,” Emerich said. “That was fixed so every county has a vote, and every employee has a vote. This is voluntary at every level, with no state money going into it. It’s all paid for by the counties.”

“The only thing we might have to work on is the dates,” Emerich noted. “They were in as of this fiscal year that just passed. I don’t think any further changes are needed unless you tell us.”

The Joint Standing Committee on Pensiopns and Retirement will meet again during next month’s Interim Legislative Session, scheduled for Oct. 15 – 17.

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