pensions

Grand Traverse County is doing a better job of funding retirement plans for its employees, according to a new report from the Municipal Employees Retirement System, or MERS.

MERS is an independent organization that invests retirement funds for Michigan municipalities.

Grand Traverse County

Nate Alger is the new Grand Traverse County administrator. On Wednesday, the county board of commissioners unanimously approved Alger’s contract. Alger is expected to sign the contract with a starting salary of $124,000 and a start date of July 1.

 

Alger takes over a county that is dealing with instability as it tackles pension debt, suicides in the jail and employee dissatisfaction. Alger says stagnant pay and reduced benefits have caused some animosity with employees in the past, but he plans to work on that.

Kate Teegardin, Flickr

Over the last three years, many of the Grand Traverse County’s top officials have resigned or been fired, and the county is now looking for its fourth administrator since 2015.

Much of the turmoil stems from the county’s pension debt – the amount of money the county has promised to retired employees. Right now, Grand Traverse County doesn’t have enough money to cover the pension debt.


Grand Traverse County

To an outsider, Grand Traverse County is a picture of success. New homes and businesses are popping up all over Michigan’s third-fastest growing county, and property values are on the rise.

But insiders describe a county government in chaos.


The latest version of changes to the state’s teacher retirement plan passed full chamber votes Thursday.

This came after major changes were announced late Tuesday and received committee hearings early Wednesday morning. The House and Senate adopted identical amendments to bills their respective chambers had already introduced.

A deal for the state’s budget and teacher retirement has been made.

Top Republican lawmakers and Governor Rick Snyder have been in a stalemate over what to do with the teacher’s retirement plan, but now a deal is in place.

The current teacher retirement plan gives teachers the option between a straight 401(k) and a hybrid 401(k) and pension-type plan.

Both the Michigan House and Senate introduced identical bills today. What message are legislative leaders trying to send by doing that?

Grand Traverse County

Three volunteer members of Grand Traverse County's Pension Advisory Board submitted their resignations Monday.

The county has a pension debt of more than $50 million. The advisory board is working to identify ways to reduce it and present those findings to county commissioners.

In their letter of resignation the citizen members – Christopher Radu, Robert Zimmerman and Michael Gillman – say, "our recommendations have been solicited, but appear to be ignored."  

What happens when a city can't keep its promises to retirees?

Grand Traverse County

Grand Traverse County Administrator Tom Menzel announced his resignation last month.

When Menzel was hired in 2015, he had a reputation for righting the financial ship at the National Cherry Festival and Bay Area Transportation Authority. Grand Traverse County commissioners hoped he would do the same for the county.

He immediately started making moves, but some of them – like asking county employees to pay more for their health and retirement benefits – have met with resistance.

David Cassleman

State Republicans want to reform the retirement system for public school teachers by eliminating pensions.

Since 2012, new teachers have received a hybrid retirement plan that blends a traditional pension with a 401(k). But legislation being debated during the lame-duck session would close the traditional pension system for future new hires and would offer them a 401(k)-style plan only. 

Republican lawmakers say the goal is to create a more reliable retirement system. The old pension system has unfunded liabilities totaling $26.7 billion, according to the Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency. 

 


Detroit Public Schools is $53 million behind in pension payments with no end in sight for the financial free-fall.

According to Chad Livengood of The Detroit News, the district is predicting a deficit of $166 million.

"The biggest driver to the DPS deficit is legacy costs and past debt," Livengood says.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says he thinks the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually decide whether pensions will be protected for city employees in the Detroit bankruptcy case.

Schuette is challenging a federal judge’s decision that says it’s possible to cut pension benefits as part of the bankruptcy. The judge says federal bankruptcy law preempts pension protections in the state constitution.

The question, Schuette says, is whether a state constitutional clause governs in this case, or perhaps federal clauses on bankruptcy or supremacy.   

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is siding with city employees and pension funds that say those benefits should not be part of Detroit bankruptcy proceedings. Schuette plans to be in court Monday to file a request to join the case.

The Attorney General says the Michigan Constitution specifically protects public employee pension benefits from being impaired or diminished.