Wednesday, May 24, 2006
By RAELYNN RICARTE
Hood River News
May 6, 2006
Hood River County has banked $860,000 to offset future cost increases in the state’s Public Employee Retirement System.
Sandi Borowy, finance director, began building up the reserve fund in 2003 after Legislative reforms were legally challenged.
“As best as you can foresee anything with PERS, we were prepared,” she said.
Three years ago, the program statewide was running a deficit that spiked at $17 billion. State officials decided to enact a series of bills to stop rising pension costs from undermining the financial security of public agencies.
Contributing to the deficit was the fact that some workers were receiving benefits that exceeded their highest salaries. A provision of state law guaranteed that employees who were hired prior to 1996 would receive a minimum of 8 percent return on their PERS investment, regardless of the actual return. The shortfall occurred when a downturn in the stock market lowered the actual return to below 8 percent mark.
A class action lawsuit was filed against the legislative reforms on behalf of more than 20,000 past and present public employees. These individuals claimed the legislative action violated their pension contract.
In 2004 Borowy, awaiting the outcome of the Oregon Supreme Court ruling, refinanced the county’s $5.35 million share of the statewide PERS debt. She was able to get an interest rate of 6.15 percent, about two points lower than the rate offered by PERS.
Then Borowy began to save the difference between the 21 percent rate for PERS benefits the county would have paid if the legislative move had not reduced it to 15 percent.
“We didn’t have faith that there was going to be any big monetary change,” she said.
So, the county was prepared when the state’s highest court ruled in 2005 that retroactive changes to PERS were illegal. The U.S. Constitution prohibits states from adopting laws impairing the obligations of contracts.
However, some reforms were allowed in the way that future rates would be calculated. So, Borowy still managed to retain some of the reserve funds.
She gained approval from the Hood River County Commission earlier this month to invest the earnings. She said there will now be money to cover PERS hikes in years to come. Instead of writing one check to PERS for a big credit, Borowy felt the county should invest the extra capital.
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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"
Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge