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GERS Board Rejects Cutting Benefits

A proposed reduction in retiree benefits was on the minds of retirees attending the Government Employees Retirement System Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday.

When Edgar D. Ross, vice chairman of the board, moved to have the discussion about the proposed cut moved from executive to public session, the retirees at the St. Croix office cheered. The meeting was held at the St. Thomas GERS Conference Room and transmitted to the St. Croix GERS Boardroom in Orange Grove.

Ross said, “I believe the discussion should be public. If you keep hiding it, people are going to end up with misinformation.”

Ross was also vocal about his feelings concerning an “actuary’s recommendation to reduce benefits by 30 percent effective Jan. 1, 2017.” He said the government should not be excused from its responsibility and “the burden placed on the retirees.”

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Carol A. Callwood, a board member on St. Thomas, said it was “a very difficult decision.” She said that the board had thoroughly discussed the issue, adding that if something was not done before 2023, the cuts would be even worse.

Board Chairman Wilbur Callender said, “We can safely say by 2023, if nothing is done by the administration, retirees will be receiving only 50 percent or less of their benefits.”

Ross also raised concerns about whether the proposed cut in benefits would make it impossible for some retirees to pay medical costs, mortgage payments and other basic necessities. He said he had asked GERS Administrator Austin Nibbs for a report on the impact of the proposed cuts.

Ross said the board needed such analysis so “we can at least consider consequences.” He said he wanted to know if the cuts might “hurt more than help GERS” because some retirees owe GERS loans.

Nibbs said his staff had run a report concerning loans and found that 60 retirees would not be able to repay their loans if the cut was made. He asked his staff to run more reports for the board.

The reports were not readily available during the discussion. The meeting, which had a scheduled start time of 9:30 a.m., turned into an all-day affair with the board going into executive session at 1:20 p.m.

Ross, who served on the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands for 10 years, emailed the Source at 3:30 p.m. that the board had come out of executive session and “has rejected the actuary’s recommendation of a 30 percent reduction in retirees’ benefits as being contrary to local law and the U.S. Constitution.”

In other business, the board authorized Nibbs to seek Legislature approval of making retirees’ payment monthly instead of bimonthly. Nibbs said this would cut GERS costs and allow staff to work on other issues such as addressing missing contributions from the government.

Kathy Smith, GERS attorney, asked the board and received approval for GERS to ask the Legislature to repeal legislation that allows government workers to retire, continue receiving their retirement benefits when returning to work.

The board also approved bringing West Indian Co. Ltd. employees into the GERS system.

The board noted that annual V.I. Lottery bonus checks had been processed and issued for 7,084 eligible retirees. Retirees age 60 and above, having been on the retirement payroll for one year, and all disability annuitants who have been on the payroll for one year, should be receiving check for a little over $100 this week.

The board accepted the treasurer’s report that showed that GERS in October had a total of $15 million in collection and a total disbursement of $22 million.

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