Six Boards Break Ice On Cola Base Barrier

JANUARY 2011 VOICE: Six intrepid local retirement boards have broken the ice which had restricted the pension COLA base to $12,000 since 1998 - twelve years ago. This change in the law, which allows a higher base option, was made possible by the passage of Chapter 188 of the Acts of 2010, enacted by the Legislature and signed by the Governor this past July. The new law also allows boards to extend their debt funding schedules to a maximum date of Year 2040, in order to reduce annual appropriations by their community or county.

Taunton's Retirement Board voted on September 24th to increase its COLA base to $14,000 effective next July, and subsequently received approval by the City Council on October 12. Thus, Taunton was the first Board to approve a new base, and receive local government acceptance - the vital second step.

"We were waiting for this new law, allowing our Board to vote for a much-needed breakthrough on the COLA base," said veteran Taunton Retirement Board member Dick Avila. "Our City Council was very receptive to accepting our Board's decision, that also included some changes in our funding plan, which the Council agreed with."

The second Board to raise its COLA base and receive local approval was Stoneham, a very frugal town when it comes to its budget. On August 21, the Stoneham Retirement Board voted for a modest COLA base of $13,000. On October 21, veteran Board member Elsie Wallace made the presentation to Fall Town Meeting and received a favorable vote for approval.

"We started with a small increase, knowing that it would be difficult to receive Town Meeting approval for a higher figure," said Wallace. "It was a small step but gives our members hope for other increases down the road. Lifting the $12,000 restriction was very important. It's also significant that the Board was able to accomplish this improvement under the current fiscal crisis facing almost every community."

Montague's Retirement Board unanimously voted for an $18,000 base effective in July at its October 26 meeting. This is the figure ($18,000) that the Pension Study Commission recommended last year. The increase involved several changes in the Board's valuation as recommended by actuary Dan Sherman. Town Accountant Carolyn Olsen, the Board's chairman will seek approval of the new base at spring Town Meeting.

On November 15th, the Plymouth Retirement Board unanimously voted to increase its COLA base to $14,000 effective next July. The Board is extending its funding schedule from Year 2023 to Year 2040 and changed its mortality tables. Actuary Larry Stone assisted with the Board's new valuation. "The new COLA base hinges on approval at Spring Town Meeting," said Board Chairman Tom Kelley.

Easthampton's Retirement Board voted on September 28th to increase its COLA base to $14,000 effective next July. The vote was 4-0 with Mayor Michael Tautznik, a Board member, abstaining. The Board voted to extend its funding schedule from 2021 to 2035. The COLA base increase will require a vote by the City Council. "This increase in the base is long overdue," said senior Board member, Jim Dunham, a retired fire captain. The Board consulted with PERAC actuary Jim Lamenzo on the new schedule.

At its August 31 meeting the Franklin Regional Retirement Board voted to increase its COLA base to $13,000 effective next July. The Board also extended its funding schedule from Year 2026 to Year 2030. PERAC's Jim Lamenzo was consulted by the Board. 

Franklin Regional (formally Franklin County) includes 24 towns and 15 regional school, fire, housing authority and water districts within its membership in Northwestern Mass. Each of these entities has a representative on the Board's Retirement Advisory Council.

At its November 4 meeting, the Advisory Council approved unanimously the $1,000 base increase. Director Dale Kowacki said the new $13,000 COLA base, on July 1, is hopefully the start of future incremental increases.