Commissioners Urge Full Funding Of Bay Medical Pension Plan - WMBB News 13 - The Panhandle's News Leader

Commissioners Urge Full Funding Of Bay Medical Pension Plan

Posted: Updated:

There's a new twist in the standoff between the Bay County Commission and the Bay Health Foundation.  At Tuesday's commission meeting, the board tabled one issue to try and resolve another.

Armed with a legal opinion that the county potentially has liability for the solvency of the Bay Medical Center employee pension fund, commissioners took steps to guarantee it will be there when hospital employees retire.

Commissioners tabled the foundation's recommendation of Olivia Cooley to fill a vacant seat on the hospital's board of trustees.  Instead, they expressed concerns about having to write the check if the pension fund ever fails and renewed their push to have a county commissioner appointed to the foundation board.

The plan was not transferred to Sacred Heart/LHP Hospital Group when the joint venture partnership acquired the assets and property of Bay Medical Center in 2012.   Instead, it remained with the independent special district and is managed by the Bay Health Foundation, formerly the Board of Trustees.

As of January 1, Bay Medical's pension plan had 2,298 members, assets of $84.8 million and actuarial accrued liabilities of $100.2 million, according to an analysis by Lewis Longman & Walker, the legal firm hired by the county to review the plan and determine the county's long-term liability.

"While the county may not be legally responsible for Bay Medical's pension liabilities, there is little question that if the district were unable to meet its pension funding obligations, the plan members would likely look to the county to make good on their promised pension benefits," wrote James W. Linn of Lewis Longman & Walker.

County commissioners want the pension plan's funded ratio increased from its current 84.6% to 100% and is asking foundation trustees to shift money from other areas and dedicate it exclusively to the pension fund. 

"If they lose their retirement, it's money they're not spending in Bay County helping everybody else," said Commissioner Mike Thomas.  "It's good for everybody that we make sure this fund is funded completely."

"I want to make sure that we're not saddling our grandchildren and the future generations with a pension shortfall that we could possibly take care of now," said Commissioner George Gainer.  "I think to properly look at this and other things, we need a county commissioner on that board."

Commissioners directed Terrell Arline, County Attorney, to meet with foundation attorney Rob Jackson to determine whether an inter-local agreement would resolve the funding issue.

It's not yet clear whether the foundation's board is willing to consider such an agreement.