PERS Exec. Director outlines proposed changes to state retirement system

Although PERS board members have approved the recommendations, any proposed changes to PERS must be approved by lawmakers.

TUPELO, Miss. (WCBI) – Proposed changes to Mississippi’s retirement system for state employees, known as PERS, have generated a lot of questions and concerns.

The head of PERS was in Tupelo to explain the proposed changes and address some of those concerns from retired and current state workers.

Like many teachers in Mississippi, Laura Honeycutt wanted to make a positive impact in the lives of young people. She also wanted to get into the state’s retirement system early.

“When you’re a young teacher starting out, everyone tells you, ‘You’re not doing it for what you’re getting paid, but for your retirement’,” Honeycutt said.

Honeycutt is the student services coordinator at Lee County’s Career and Technical Education Center. Although retirement is still some years away, she wanted to hear about proposed changes to the Public Employees’ Retirement System of Mississippi, or PERS.

PERS Executive Director Ray Higgins spoke at the regular meeting for Retired Education Professionals of Mississippi. He said changes to the retirement benefits would not impact retirees or current state employees. However, future hires could see a difference when it comes to the cost of living adjustment, or COLA.

“Talking about a new tier five for future employees, where we would propose a similar defined benefit pension. Similar to PERS, but the possibility of a COLA, as opposed to a guaranteed COLA,” Higgins said.

Another proposed change would phase in an employer contribution rate for each employee by 2%, with additional increases in coming years. That change elicited a strong response on social media by Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker. He said the city will need to find nearly $3 million to fund current employees. He said that could mean raising taxes or cutting services.

Kim Hanna is the chief financial officer with the City of Tupelo. Hanna said phasing in the employer increase gives cities, counties, and school districts time to plan for the additional expenditures.

“Every town, city throughout the state is a little bit different. Where they get sources of money, payroll, it’s up to each individual city, and county as well to work through their individual budget process and do the best we can,” Hanna said.

Although PERS board members have approved the recommendations, any changes to PERS must be approved by lawmakers.

They expect to take up the issue in January.

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