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Proposed ordinance targets pension double-dipping

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The Clayton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) has submitted an ordinance for first reading, that, if passed, would make it impossible for employees of the county to participate in both state and county retirement plans.

According to county officials, however, the only employees impacted by the ordinance would be those of the Tax Commissioner's office.

During Tuesday's BOC meeting, Clayton County Finance Director and Pension Board Secretary Angela Jackson introduced an ordinance which, if approved, would make two key changes to the county's pension policy: One, employees who are retired, and receiving retirement benefits, would be excluded from benefits during the duration of their employment, if rehired by the county to work full-time; and two, all employees would be barred from participating in both the county and the state's pension plans at the same time.

"It [the first part of the proposed ordinance] only affects the people who come back as full-time, and we currently don't have anybody who falls into that category," Jackson said. "If you are a participant in another full pension plan, then this [the second part of the proposed ordinance] prevents you from being a participant in our [the county's] plan."

"Right now, some of the tax commissioner's staff are part of both [state and county retirement] plans," she continued. "That won't be allowed after this resolution. It's not fair that all employees don't have that option or that benefit."

The second reading and possible adoption of the ordinance will take place next Tuesday. The portion of the ordinance pertaining to rehired retirees would go into effect on Sept. 21, and the portion pertaining to employees of the tax commissioner would go into effect Nov. 1, if approved, according to Jackson.

Jackson said that state legislation already prevents most state-paid county employees -- such as certain employees of the county library and court systems -- from participating in the county's pension plan. She said legislation to make the rule apply to all county employees failed to pass last year, and that the county's pension board is attempting to find a remedy.

"The state was supposed to pass a bill last year," Jackson said. "They wrote the bill, it was going through, but another little statement got attached and they [the General Assembly] didn't like it, so it got voted down. So, once they didn't fix it, the pension board had to fix that, so that you don't have one group of employees allowed to do something that everybody else in the county can't do."

Jackson said the cost-savings of the move are uncertain, but the proposed change in the policy would impact "17 to 18" employees within the Tax Commissioner's Office. The county has approximately 2,200 employees overall, she said.

County Tax Commissioner Terry Baskin said the county's proposed ordinance goes beyond the intention of the state's failed legislation, which he says was to prohibit the tax commissioner and chief deputy tax commissioner from participating in both state and county pension funds. He said he believes the employees of his office are being unfairly targeted.

"It's targeting my office and it's penalizing my office for no reason whatsoever," Baskin said. "It [the state pension] is the only compensation from the state they receive. It's their money ... I think that's unfair."

Recently, Baskin has butted heads with the Board of Commissioners regarding his office and the use of county resources. In July, Baskin was arrested for obstruction, after he stood in the way of Clayton County police officers, who were attempting to repossess two take-home vehicles used by his office. In August, Baskin was cleared of the charges, after Solicitor General Tasha Mosley determined the cars were purchased out of the tax commissioner's budget.

Baskin said that after 2009, new hires of the tax commissioner's office were given a choice of participating in either the state or the county pension plan. While uncertain, Baskin expressed fears that some employees of the office, who chose to participate in the county's pension plan, may be thrown out of a pension plan altogether -- if the ordinance passes.

"Now they are talking about those new hires, that are now on with the county pension ... just throwing them out of the system," Baskin said. "I think that is wrong."

Jackson said that new hires of the tax commissioner's office will "have to decide" which pension plan they want to participate in, if the ordinance passes.