Bel Air Town Hall

The Bel Air Town Commissioners rejected a proposal Monday night to add a one-time payment to the pension fund for town employees. (June 18, 2013)

The Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners unanimously voted against a budget amendment Monday that would have put $55,000 in savings from a recent capital project toward the town employee pension funds, which are short by more than $100,000 for the 2013 fiscal year.

In rejecting the amendment, commissioners called for a review of the "overall health" of the town's pension funds.

Finance Director Lisa Moody and Town Administrator Chris Schlehr put forth the proposal during last week's work session with the commissioners. The savings were the result of the $150,000 project to install a traffic light at Gateway Drive and Boulton Street coming in well under budget.

"We just felt that it would be prudent to go ahead and do this one-time contribution," Moody said Monday.

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Moody noted that she attended a recent conference for the Government Finance Officers Association and noted the national Governmental Accounting Standards Board is developing new standards for government employee pension funds.

"One of the consistent messages from the speakers was... the municipalities and the counties need to be funding your pensions as the actuarial valuation each year tells you to; if you're not, you're doing your pensions a disservice," she said of the conference.

Moody said the town's actuarial report issued last October stated Bel Air's pension for sworn officers should be at 10.94 percent, compared to its current 9.4 percent funding level, and 11.55 percent for civilian employees, compared to the actual 8.7 percent.

Town policy requires employees to make additional contributions to their pension funds, but Moody said pension trustees "decided to just hold off and not require the employees to make that additional contribution this fiscal year" in the hopes the stock market would "turn around."

She said the market has done "fairly well," but about $115,000 to $125,000 more is needed to bring the funds up to the actuary's recommended percentages.

Robert Reier, vice chairman of the commissioners, made an amendment to withdraw the $55,000 "lump sum" pension fund payment from the rest of the budget amendment, which included the transfer of the funds left over from the traffic light project and some funds saved in Social Security and medical insurance benefits due to personnel changes.

"I understand your explanation," Reier told Moody. "I certainly have always appreciated your viewpoint, but I just think it needs further analysis. I'm not prepared at this time to go ahead and take this money, which essentially is taxpayers' money, and just allocate it into a fund."

Commissioner David Carey echoed Reier's views, noting the commissioners were hearing about the pension fund issue in the context of having an unexpected savings.

He said he and his fellow commissioners were willing to consider the lump sum payment, but it should be "in the context of considering the entire situation, the entire health of the pension funds."

Schlehr said the money was "some funds that were left over at the end of the fiscal year, and we thought this would be a good way to use them, but if the board doesn't want to use them in that way, we'll just withdraw it."

Moody said the savings would be put in the town's unassigned fund balance and the trustees would make a decision regarding the pensions based on this fall's actuarial report.

Reier withdrew his amendment and the commissioners voted unanimously against the entire proposed budget amendment.

FBI National Academy grad

Bel Air police Sgt. Henry Marchesani was honored by the commissioners and police Chief Leo Matrangola for his recent graduation from the FBI's National Academy for law enforcement officers.

"As an FBI National Academy graduate, Sgt. Marchesani enters into a select group made up of less than 1 percent of the country's law enforcement officers," said Mayor Edward Hopkins, reading from remarks prepared by Matrangola.

The 10-week course, held in Quantico, Va., includes classes in the law, forensics, terrorism, leadership and more. Students have the opportunity to network with fellow law enforcement officers from around the United States and the world, and maintain those relationships after graduation, Hopkins said.