MOUNT VERNON — Last November, the Ohio Retirement Study Council, the umbrella organization for the five public pension funds — the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, the State Teachers Retirement System, the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund, the School Employees Retirement System and the Highway Patrol Retirement System — asked those funds to make recommendations for changes to the retirement systems for public employees.
The Ohio Public Employees Retirement System is the largest of the entities.
“We are a strong system,” said OPERS communications manager Julie Gramprice. “We made some changes, but we didn’t have to make drastic changes. To accomodate the lengthening life span of retirees, for instance, we recommended an increase in the number of years you have to work in order to receive your pension. Eligibility used to be after 30 years of service at any age, or at age 65 with five years of service. The recommended change is to 32 years of service with a minimum age of 55, or age 67 with five years of service.”
OPERS also recommends changing the reduced benefits plan from age 55 with 25 years of service, or age 60 with five years of service, to age 57 with 25 years of service or age 62 with five years of service. The final average salary computations will go from the three highest calendar years of earnings to the five highest calendar years of earnings.
“The proposed changes will continue to strengthen the fund,” Gramprice said. “In public pensions, you have to be 30-year funded. What that means is, if you had to pay everything off, how long would it take? We are within that funding requirement. We are in very good shape.”
Current retirees would not be affected by the OPERS changes, and there is also a transition plan for more senior workers. “People who are the closest to retirement, “ explained Gramprice, “are the least able to make changes to their retirement plan. They will be grandfathered in under the old plan.”
Since each plan has a different clientele, different funding status and different plan designs, not all are recommended the same changes.
Gramprice gave one example; “OPERS is not asking for a contribution increase, although STRS and Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund are.”
“Only the General Assembly can make those changes,” continued Gramprice. “The legislature could treat each system separately or may just introduce one bill that has everybody’s recommendations in it. There has not yet been a bill introduced, and we don’t expect anything to be introduced until after the November election.”