A Sound off caller recently expressed concern regarding information in a Courier article about the city council’s approval of the fiscal year 2014 budget, which included an increase in council members’ personal contribution to the state’s retirement system for government workers and elected officials.
The council agreed to increase their personal contributions to the system from $21 a month to $40 a month.
The caller asked how long an elected official must serve in order to receive retirement benefits and suggested the Courier publish details about the elected officials’ retirement plan.
City Manager Billy Edwards spoke Wednesday afternoon with the Courier about the state’s retirement system for mayors and city-council members. He said the Georgia Municipal Employees Benefits System started “a long time ago.” According to the Georgia Municipal Association’s website, www.gmanet.com/Retirement.aspx, GMEBS was created by an act of the Georgia Legislature in 1965. The website said it provided “benefit retirement plans” for local-government employees. At that time, it did not include elected officials.
Retirement benefits for elected officials began in the early to mid-1980s, said Edwards, who began working for the city in 1978. He said there was some controversy and public discussion about it at that time, “but not a lot.”
“It’s based on the number of years served, but it is reduced if you start drawing it before age 65,” Edwards said. “An elected official who leaves public office at age 65 would receive 100 percent of the accrued retirement benefit (for the rest of his life) for his (monthly) contribution times the number of years he served,” he said. “The percentage goes down for each year before age 65.”
According to Edwards, 30 days after an elected official takes office, he or she begins accruing retirement benefits. He explained that if there was an election this year, and a recently-elected councilman served only one four-year term before leaving office, that official’s retirement benefit first would be calculated at $40 times four years.
He noted that comes to $160 a month if the official is 65 years old. If he or she is only 50 years old, however, he gets only one-third that amount or about $53 a month (for life). If he is 56 years old, Edwards said he’d receive half the benefit or $80 a month.
“We had first discussed this at the (city) planning workshop back in the summer,” Edwards said. “The council members asked me to get two actuaries using an average of the hub cities other than Atlanta, with a population near ours and a (monthly contribution) of $33 and $40.”
Edwards defined a “hub” city as a city with a major economic impact outside metropolitan Atlanta, where residents in surrounding communities work, shop or find entertainment or recreation. Though some hub cities do not participate in GMEBS, he noted that the elected officials in those cities who do participate in the retirement system contribute $25 to $50 a month to the GMEBS plan.
He noted mayors only can serve two consecutive four-year terms in office, but city council members, who are also elected to four-year terms, can serve until they lose a re-election bid or choose to retire.