(07/31/12) - Election day is one week away, and one Saginaw County race has put the spotlight on what one county executive calls a very generous pension plan.
The race is for an office that normally doesn't get a lot of attention - Saginaw County Public Works Commissioner.
One of the candidates involved is in line to receive a pension from his current government job.
Defined pension benefits are slowly disappearing from the public and private sectors because of their costs, but one local government entity still has such a plan - and it's costing taxpayers a lot of money.
Saginaw County Road Commission board members are appointed by the Saginaw County Board of Commissioners, but it's run as its own entity, with its own payroll and benefit system.
Current managing director Brian Wendling is running for the public works commissioner job, which pays about $90,000 a year.
If Wendling defeats the incumbent, Matt Rappley, he would be eligible to retire from the road commission at age 42, with an annual pension of about $42,000, along with other benefits.
Wendling has worked at the road commission for 16 years, but pension rules allowed him to "buy time" to get 20 years of service on the books. Eight other management-level workers at the road commission are also eligible to retire after 20 years on the job.
"We have never had a 20-year and out in Saginaw County government, here at the courthouse," said Marc McGill, Saginaw County Controller.
McGill says the county has moved away from defined pension plans like the road commission's.
"I've been in local and county government and analyzed other governments, helped them out for 25 years, and that would be the most generous manager pension, and the road commission would be the most generous pension I've seen," McGill said.
Road Commission Chairperson Todd Hare agrees, but adds, "We are in discussions to make changes to those pension plans and it's my expectation, that we will have one plan for all new employees. The cost will be significantly reduced."
The pension plan could cost taxpayers big time. This Municipal Employees' Retirement System report indicates the management pension plan's unfunded liability is close to $1.2 million. Hare says, "it's out of line, but we are looking to make changes."
Getting back to the public works race, Matt Rappley did not want to comment on this story.
Brian Wendling did tell ABC12 that if he should win the election, he will not take the road commission pension right now.
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