Berkshire Regional: Small Pensions, But Happy Retirees

July 2006 - If there is one county retirement system that could be considered to be the poor cousin of other retirement systems, it is the Berkshire Regional System (Formerly Berkshire County System).

Like all county or regional systems, Berkshire encompasses a number of towns, in this case, twenty-nine, who do not have their own systems, plus a number of school districts (non-teachers) and other small units. In addition, retired county employees are members of the Berkshire System.

When we say “poor cousin” we are referring to the average pension of a member in the retirement system, not the retirement board or retirement system. Berkshire’s pension fund is invested in the State’s PRIT Fund and has enjoyed double-digit earnings in recent years. It is a well-run retirement system.

But the average pension of a Berkshire retiree is a smallish $10,441, again reflecting the salaries of members in the system. Berkshire’s average salary is only $25,561, according to PERAC’s most recent actuarial valuation report. This is in comparison to Norfolk County’s average salary of almost $35,000 and the state’s $50,000. Pensions of these two systems are proportionally higher – twice as high at the state level.

The towns in the Berkshire System have scant populations compared to the rest of the state. Williamstown, a college town with a population of 8,300, is the largest community, while communities like Florida, Peru, Savoy and Alford, unknown names to many of our members, have populations of under 1,000. The metropolis of Pittsfield, with a population of 45,000, has its own retirement system, as do Adams and North Adams.

Alice Andrews, 81, is the retired clerk of the Town of Dalton. “Pensions may be smaller at this end of the state but we have the best of both worlds,” she said.

“We have all kinds of arts and theaters, plus the ability to enjoy nature in its most natural form. In turn, we are free from the traffic and turmoil of Eastern Mass. My husband and I enjoy visiting relatives near Worcester, but we always breathe a sigh of relief when we arrive back home.”

Hank Loring is the retired superintendent of the Lee Pollution Plant. He’s lived in Lee for all of his 77 years and would never live anywhere else.

“Yes, the salaries and pensions are a little lower around here, but I don’t know of anyone who wants to leave. I play golf a lot and it’s usually easy to get a tee time.
“It gets pretty cluttered with tourists around here in the summer. There are lots of attractions, including Tanglewood. Lee would probably fold up if it weren’t for the tourists.”

John Beckwith is a retired Great Barrington police officer whose pension is about half that of a Boston police officer, but who “lives as far from Boston as possible in this state and wouldn’t want to live any closer.”

Beckwith knows that salaries are lower in the Berskhire System, especially public works employees. “Public Works gets a lot of overtime, but that doesn’t help their pensions,” he said. “Still, I don’t know any retirees who want to leave. Life is great out here in the far West.”