Caresse Jackman

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Retiring With Sick Leave

NORTHEAST, Miss. (WCBI)- If you work for a city in Mississippi, chances are the sick days you don’t use roll over into your retirement fund. The State’s Public Employees’ Retirement System, or PERS, provides benefits to retirees and current public employees.

“If they choose not to take it, it banks up. And they continue to accrue until they leave the city. If they’re here long enough to retire, the sick leave can be applied to increase their years of service, which would increase their monthly check,” said Columbus Human Resources Director Patricia Mitchell.

But critics fear that if you’ve worked for decades, those sick days you haven’t taken, will leave city and county officials in a bind. Mitchell says PERS does not put dent in their wallet.

“Employees pay 9% in every dollar they earn. And the city right now pays 14.75 cents every dollar. So we’ve matched and the funds are there,” said Mitchell.

Public School Districts fall under the same retirement system. Monroe County School Superintendent Scott Cantrell says the bind comes if multiple teachers retire at one time.

“We really struggle sometimes to find advanced math applications and chemistry, physics applicants, etc. So a lot of that depends on the field people are retiring in,” said Cantrell.

In 2012 and 2010, lawmakers raised the employee and employer contribution rate for PERS. Because of those changes, Cantrell believes public school districts are in good shape.

“The amount the employer has to pay has risen considerably over the last few years and our legislature has always appropriated funding for the school districts to pay that. So, as far as us feeling the pinch in that regard, we have not,” said Cantrell.

Mitchell says down the road, PERS may change, but right now it ensures the long hours and diligence employees contribute without calling in sick pays off.

“I think it’s a benefit that municipal employees look forward to. They’ve worked hard anticipating that 25 years up the road, 30 years up the road, I can walk away and continue getting a monthly income,” said Mitchell.

Earlier this year, some lawmakers wanted to freeze pension benefits for 3 years as a way to jump-start overdue reforms to PERS.

Experts still worry it doesn’t have enough money to meet its long-term obligations.