February 22

Kennebec County prevails in retirement benefits appeal

Maine Supreme Judicial Court decision means three people lose opportunity for a retirement fund boost.

By Betty Adams badams@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Two county employees and one retiree have lost a chance for a significant boost in their retirement funds.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court last week overturned a ruling that would have required Kennebec County to pay about $256,000 into the state retirement system for the three people.

The county had appealed an April 8, 2013, ruling by a superior court justice that upheld a decision by the Board of Trustees of the Maine Public Employees Retirement System saying the county had failed in its responsibility to offer membership in the state retirement system to the three employees when they were initially hired.

Those people — Carol Royer, of Farmingdale; Jim Saucier, of Belgrade; and Diana York, of Pittston — didn’t get that opportunity, for a total of 31 years among them.

Royer was hired in 1987 and retired in 2012. Saucier was hired in 1985; and York, in 2000.

They all joined the state retirement system by 2010.

The 4-1 decision of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, written by Associate Justice Donald Alexander, follows oral arguments that were held last October.

“We conclude that (the Maine Public Employees Retirement System) and its board lacked statutory authority to decide the inadequate advice at hire claims, and therefore vacate the judgment,” Alexander wrote.

He also noted that “those employees cannot be deemed to have been ‘included in the membership of a retirement program of the retirement system,’ unless and until they actually enrolled.”

“It’s over and I’m glad,” Royer said on Saturday. “I feel bad for the other employees who are younger and would stand to benefit more.”

Alexander said there were other remedies available, including administrative and collective bargaining grievance procedures, if the employees think they were not properly informed about their eligibility to participate in the state retirement system.

“Obviously the county is pleased our position prevailed,” said Robert Devlin, Kennebec County administrator, in reaction to the court’s ruling. “It is important to note there was never a denial of a retirement benefit. In fact, most of the employees involved chose one of several retirement plans available to county employees.”

Earlier estimates indicated the county would have had to pay $256,000 to make up back contributions. The three employees would have had to contribute as well.

“We accept and obviously will respect the court’s decision,” said James Bowie, the state assistant attorney general who represented the Maine Public Employees Retirement System.

Associate Justice Warren Silver disagreed with the majority of his fellow justices and wrote a dissent saying he would have upheld the decision of the state retirement system board.

Betty Adams — 621-5631badams@centralmaine.comTwitter: @betadams
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