BERRIEN COUNTY -- The Berrien County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the county's participation in a new pension plan Monday.

Sam Hartline from the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia's employee retirement program attended the meeting, answering the commissioners' questions.

Under the plan, all full-time employees -- both hired and elected -- would be eligible to participate in the pension plan after working with the county for a year.

County commissioners are not included.

If a person chooses to participate in the 401(a), the county will contribute $200 annually. It will contribute $1 for each $1 the employee puts into the account, up to a maximum of $370 a year.

"This lets employees be responsible for saving," Hartline said.

In addition, the commissioners discussed the vesting schedule -- the date that determines what percentage of county funds can be kept. Employees who choose to leave the county before working five years may lose a percentage of money the county put into their accounts. They will, however, keep the money they put into the account. When the employee has worked for the county for at least five years, they get to keep 100 percent of the county's money in their accounts.

If an employee were to quit working for the county, and later on decide to return, that person's vesting schedule changes to the rehire date, not the previous one.

Commission Chairman Gregg McClellan asked Hartline if many commissioners participated in the pension program. Hartline said that while it certainly is allowable, a few elected city and county government officials do participate.

Commissioner Wayne Roberts said he'd like to participate in the program, since it wouldn't cost the county much, while McClellan said he didn't want it for himself because it wouldn't benefit him.

Commissioner James Griver said he wanted to give it more thought.

At this time, the commissioners aren't included in the plan. However, County Manager Van Whaler said an amendment can be made later if the commissioners decide they want to participate.

The commissioners also discussed its Employment Incentive Program Grant revolving loan program, which allows Berrien County to offer revolving loans to people and businesses seeking to come into the area. The Department of Community Affairs wants certain guidelines in place. Among the topics discussed in the guidelines are types of eligible activities, eligibility requirements, applicant requirements, and some review procedures. According to DCA documents outlining the guidelines, those businesses located in the county that can show their projects will create or retain the highest number of jobs for low and moderate income people, while using the least amount of public funds. Applications can be submitted at any time, and the county manager, finance director, or the loan review committee determines which applications to accept or deny. The commissioners unanimously approved this item.

In other business, the commissioners:

l Held a public hearing to discuss naming County Road 16 Perry Mathis Circle. No one from the audience spoke either for or against the idea, and the commissioners unanimously approved the item.

l Unanimously approved the county's 2002-03 $11,849,718 budget. A public hearing was also held about this, and no one from the audience spoke for or against it.

To contact Marie Arrington, please call 244-3400, ext. 254.

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