State ruling resolves pension issue

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BEACON FALLS — The town won’t have to retroactively make pension contributions after all.

Concerns arose last year about whether the way the town had built its pension into contracts for municipal employees was legal.

“There was a concern about a difference between what the state statutes say and the union contracts we have,” First Selectman Christopher Bielik said.

When the town’s three unions were created 10 years ago, the provision in the agreements regarding the pension program required employees to work for a full year prior to being enrolled.

In the mid-2000s, the town transitioned to the Connecticut Municipal Employees Retirement System and adhered to its original union agreements requiring the year-long probation.

But the state contacted the town in 2013 and notified officials that the town had been incorrectly applying the waiting period to its workers; employees hired under the state program are supposed to be enrolled from date of hire.

The discrepancy came to light when one of the employees looked into the records and noticed the town’s contribution to his pension was lower than he expected it to be.

While there is a provision under the state program that allows a municipality a 90-day probationary period, the state said Beacon Falls had never applied to do so. Bielik previously said the town was told about the exemption at the time of the switch, but was not notified that it hadn’t applied.

“We were concerned that this would cause us to go back and review every hire under those contracts. We were looking at a back contribution share bill to the town, including interest, of somewhere north of $50,000,” Bielik said.

The town brought the issue to Kishore Solanki, the assistant director of the retirement division of Connecticut’s Office of the State Comptroller. After reviewing both the contracts and the state statutes, Solanki ruled in favor of the town, according to Bielik.

“According to his rulings the town’s collectively bargained agreements fall within the guidelines of the statutes and take precedence over it. So, therefore, with the wording in our contracts that say one year, the way we have been doing it all this time, is acceptable now to Hartford,” Bielik said.

The ruling only affects employees hired between 2004 and 2014. As of a year ago the town chose to bring all new employees to the 90-day waiting period for pensions to be in line with state statutes.

Bielik said the town does not have to figure extra pension payments into its upcoming budget.

“Basically this ruling keeps us level-set where we are at and we don’t have to write that check,” Bielik said.