Were Macon-Bibb retirees shorted in pension calculations? Probe underway


Liz Fabian

Private contractors have begun scanning tens of thousands of Macon-Bibb County employee paper files in an effort to determine whether pensions were miscalculated.

Boxes of Macon-Bibb County employee records are being scanned through an effort to determine if retirees’ pensions have been shorted in recent years.

Nearly a year ago, an auditor discovered that software for actuarial calculations might not have been updated since 2012.

As a result, the county possibly underpaid benefits by hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years. The exact sum and identity of those affected won’t be known for months until the probe is complete.

Monday, Scan N More began scanning nearly 1,600 files in the Macon-Bibb County Human Resources Office on the first floor of the Government Center.

Senior Assistant County Attorney Michael McNeill told pension board members that it would take up to three weeks to digitize the tens of thousands of old paper records.

The county is paying 10 cents a sheet plus $50 a day for set up as the company brings its own equipment. It’s estimated the total will come to about $20,000 for each of the three boards.

Once the files are scanned, the company’s hard drives will be removed and destroyed onsite to protect confidentiality.

Scan N More  will provide a hard drive of the documents to the county and furnish another for Buck, a human resources consulting company hired by Macon-Bibb County at an estimated cost of about $25,000 for each of the boards.

Buck will pull a sampling of 100 files from each of the county’s three pension plans and check the calculations. Late spring or early this summer, the company is expected to report initial findings to the pension boards that will determine if further study is warranted.

The auditor initially believed the wrong multiplier might have only affected retirees who chose certain options related to survivor benefits, not those who selected regular benefits.

About 10 percent of retirees could fit into that category, according to early estimates. If a greater number of people is affected, Buck will bill for the additional work.

Time to privatize some HR services?

March 10, the county has called a joint meeting of all three pension and retirement boards to hear presentations about possibly outsourcing some pension administrative functions in the future.

Buck and representatives from the Georgia Municipal Association and the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia will go over the types of services they can provide and software programs that make calculating pensions much easier.

“I know HR has been struggling with turning around pension calculations. … Every one of those calculations you have to do separately from scratch,” McNeill told the Fire and Police Retirement Board last month. “One little phone call (inquiring about options) is like 10 hours of work for HR.”

McNeill mentioned the department has a lot of new people and is rebuilding after the departure of long-serving human resources director Ben Hubbard and others.

“I know HR is interested in anything that can make their work a little easier,” McNeill said at the meeting.

As the Fire and Police Retirement Board’s February meeting got underway, chairman Danny Angelo noted the lag in approving survivor benefits after a retiree’s death late last year.

“Another widow who’s gone three months without a check,” Angelo observed.

While briefing the Macon-Bibb pension trustees, county manager Keith Moffett said managing post employment benefits is a big job.  More than 3,000 retirees and current employees have to be educated about benefits and have their options calculated.

“It takes a lot of time to look at the different scenarios,” Moffett said.

Pension trustee and county commissioner Valerie Wynn asked, “So right now we don’t have the capacity to do that?”

“I don’t think so,” Moffett said. “Over the last few years we lost a lot of institutional knowledge.”

Once options for outsourcing are explored, Moffett hopes to find a solution that is amenable to all three boards overseeing retirement and pensions.

Contact Civic Reporting Senior Fellow Liz Fabian at 478-301-2976 or email fabian_lj@mercer.