Grand Traverse County is doing a better job of funding retirement plans for its employees, according to a new report from the Municipal Employees Retirement System, or MERS.
MERS is an independent organization that invests retirement funds for Michigan municipalities.
A year ago, Grand Traverse County had the lowest-funded retirement system in Michigan. The county only had enough money to cover about 45 percent of the retirement benefits it has promised employees.
Since then, the county has invested nearly $12 million for pensions. That’s good enough to get the funding level up to 52 percent.
Michigan law requires municipalities to pre-fund their retirement plans. Most Michigan counties are funded at 70 percent or more.
County Commissioner Carol Crawford says she’d like to see the county’s number closer to 80 percent.
“It’s still hanging over our head,” says Crawford of the unfunded pension debt. “It’s still a big debt that we need to pay. But I think at eighty percent, I would feel much more comfortable.”
Crawford says the county’s plan is to keep making payments to MERS every year.
“The $5.9 million that we have promised to pay every year is within our budget. We can do it,” says Crawford. “And I think some of those other measures … raising taxes. I’m not for that at all. And bonding; I’m not for that either.”
MERS estimates that if Grand Traverse County keeps making the payments every year, they will reach the 100% funding level in 10 years.