Greencastle evaluates pension funds, postpones burn ban

PAT FRIDGEN

Borough council members met with financial representatives in a special meeting Sept. 8 before the regular monthly meeting. They heard a report on the status of the pension program for non-uniformed employees and the police department. Robert Hall from R.J. Hall Company, Inc., and Suzanne Elbin, Principal Financial Group, both of Carlisle, shared information so council could plan for the next two years.

Hall noted that in the past, the PFG met with the former borough manager but current manager Kenneth Womack asked them to speak directly to council.

The members present, Mark Singer, Harry Foley, Charles Eckstine, Paul Schemel, Michele Emmett, and mayor Robert Eberly, did use the time to ask questions and get clarifications.

Hall said the police plan was in excellent condition even though it experienced a 30 percent loss in 2008. Officer turnover had helped keep the funds in check. The non-uniform plan was also in good shape and would look better if the borough adopted a recommended asset smoothing method to spread the market losses over five years. The current valuation method for assets was calculated through fair market value.

The numbers for both accounts in 2009 were on the way up. Hall said the economy was as much an emotional issue as it was financial. "The press says we're coming out of a recession, and lo and behold, we do."

The borough's contributions to the two defined benefit retirement plans vary each year depending on economic conditions and other factors. Greencastle was eligible for increased state aid to pay into the plans.

"You should not have out-of-pocket expenses in 2010 and 2011. That's unusual," Hall said.

Elbin's company has been providing the asset allocation service for Greencastle for $5,000 a year. She encouraged the borough to watch the number of employees retiring in the next 10 years so that the money would be available when needed. The borough had to weigh its risk tolerance for investing.

Typically, a non-uniformed employee retires at age 62 with 10 years of vested service. A police officer retires at age 50 with 25 years of service.

When asked about her fee, Elbin said it was voluntary and Greencastle had the option of moving funds on its own. Hall said few municipalities did so because of how cumbersome it became for council members to meet with an advisor periodically and determine any action. As well, the town's liability insurance would go up. "For the cost, it's a good buy," he assured them.

There were other flat fees for servicing the two benefit plans.

Hall and Elbin were optimistic that market gains would boost the money in the plans, and the increase would be better if municipal contributions were more than the minimum required by the state.

The regular meeting

Foley asked the council and citizens to observe Sept. 11 in memory of the thousands of people who perished from the terrorist attacks in 2001. By chance, that day he and four other Jerr-Dan drivers were on their way to New York City. "By fate and the grace of God, we stopped for breakfast in New Jersey."

One of the drivers heard on the radio that the Twin Towers had been hit. The five returned home. "I count my blessings every day," said Foley. "Please take a moment of silence on Friday."

Rep. Todd Rock announced that it was official - right turn lanes would be intalled at the intersection of US 11 and Route 16. PennDOT had moved the plan forward to within two years because local funding of $250,000 had been raised, to meet the 80/20 state/local match in paying for the project.  He credited council for its work alongside him since 2007. President Eckstine countered that Rock was being humble. "Without his efforts to help us get the cash, it wouldn't have happened," said Eckstine.

Womack was asked to obtain more information on exterior furnaces before the borough makes an amendment to the open burning ordinance. Because of the smoke the furnaces make while heating buildings, council wanted to prohibit them but agreed they didn't know enough about the appliances. Schemel was reluctant to eliminate an option for people to heat more economically. Others were concerned that if used as designed, there may not be a problem, but they couldn't control what was incinerated.

The final land development plan for Rescue Hose Co. No. 1 was approved. The company received a waiver from filing a preliminary plan for its 2,930 square foot office building at 401 S. Washington St.

A request for a letter of support for Norfolk Southern's Crescent Corridor Intermodal Freight Project was rejected. NS wanted to include the letter in a joint grant application, partnering with five governors and five state departments of transportation, to ask the US Dept. of Transportation for money. Council members had concerns about the impact of the terminal on traffic and safety in Greencastle, and eventually agreed with Womack that the letter would have nil impact on the application.