Public employees meet to discuss questions about pension plan

Faced with uncertainties about the future of their pension funds, hundreds of former and current state employees, school teachers and local government workers packed a hotel conference room Tuesday night for a meeting about the financial questions surrounding PERA.

Officials with the Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association, often referred to as PERA, are making eight stops in Colorado cities this month to listen to concerns from the public about the future of PERA, which will run out of funds within the next 30 years if changes to the plan are not made, officials said Tuesday.

By Nov. 1, PERA officials have to present a plan to state legislators related to its current and future funding. On Tuesday, retired workers, who spent decades paying into PERA’s fund, and current workers wondering if they will enjoy the PERA benefits they budgeted for, listened as officials painted a dismal future for the pension fund.

“We cannot invest our way out of this problem,” Gregory W. Smith said Tuesday. Smith is the general counsel for PERA as well as its chief operating officer.

In 2008, 26 percent, or $10.5 billion, was lost in the value of PERA’s investment portfolio, Executive Director Meredith Williams reported.

“I’m pleased to report the bleeding has stopped through the first six months of the year,”

Williams told the audience. “Unfortunately, the markets continue to be very volatile.”

PERA is a pension fund for more than 400,000 former and current Colorado employees who are required to pay a percentage of their paychecks into a fund that earns a fixed rate of interest. Employers of PERA employees contribute a higher percentage, which also is invested.

Most PERA recipients do not receive Social Security.

What officials such as Williams and Meredith want from the August meetings around the state is to hear if PERA recipients — present and future — will accept benefit changes and how those changes should happen because the amount of money current being taken in by PERA is less than the amount being paid out, Williams said.

During Tuesday’s public comment portion of the meeting, one man said anyone running for public office in the months ahead should expect PERA-related questions. Another man said PERA recipients will have to accept a scale-back in benefits.

People filled out a form to give to officials about what they will or will not accept as changes.

Katie Kaufmanis, spokeswoman for PERA, said the public meetings across the state have yielded similar public comments.

To fill out a form about what should happen to PERA and to learn more about the meetings being held this month, go to http://www.copera.org.

Upcoming public meetings are in Durango, Greeley, Fort Collins and Fort Morgan.


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