Payouts from another government employee retirement plan in Georgia are nearly triple what is received by the lead plaintiff in a $75 million class-action lawsuit in Hall County.
The lawsuit filed in Fulton County Superior Court is challenging a 1998 freeze in retirement pension benefits for Hall government employees. The lawsuit claims the county “made no additional employer contributions for plaintiffs to the ‘trust fund.’”
When the board resolution was signed in 1998, all accrued benefits after that were frozen.
The Association County of Commissioners of Georgia is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
ACCG declined to provide statistics on pension payouts for member counties that use its plan, which includes Hall.
“Upon advice from our general counsel, we do not discuss pending litigation,” ACCG communications manager Schuyler Harding wrote in an email.
Amy Henderson, public information manager for the Georgia Municipal Association, said the average monthly payout from its retirement program for government employees was $945.83 in December 2016.
The payout from GMA is nearly three times the amount plaintiff Brad Rounds and other Hall employees claim they are expected to receive if the freeze stays in place.
According to the lawsuit, Rounds’ “frozen” pension benefit is $389 per month. Under the original formula, he would receive $2,567 monthly, according to the lawsuit.
The Times filed an open records request asking what the county has saved since the pension plan change, but county officials said no such documents existed. No numbers on Hall retirees drawing retirement benefits were released.
Attorney Michael Kramer said the class suit includes about 70 current employees and about 30 that retired after July 1, 2008, many of them first responders. He did not return a call for comment Friday.
The attorneys claimed Hall County “discriminated unlawfully” by exempting retirees from the freeze who left between 1998 and June 30, 2008.
Jimmy Echols, who served on the Hall County Board of Commissioners at the time of the board resolution, said his recollection of the events and the freeze are “fuzzy.”
“There was a pretty large delegation — I’d say eight or 10 at least — of county employees from several different areas of the county government who came to us and thanked us for taking the action that we took,” Echols said.
Echols said there was a study group working on the issue, and the commission’s actions were due in part to their recommendations.
“I think they saw it at that time as being beneficial to them,” he said. “Of course, there was a lot of difference in that time. Government was growing by leaps and bounds.”
According to the board resolution signed on July 1, 1998, the Hall County Defined Benefit Plan was to be frozen.
“The return on those investments in the pension plans was not what it looked like it would be in 1998,” Echols said.
Another commissioner at the time, Al Gainey, did not return a call for comment.