The Somerville Retirement System (“the System”) is a contributory defined benefit plan covering all member unit employees deemed eligible by the retirement board, with the exception of school department employees who serve in a teaching capacity. The pensions of such school employees are administered by the Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement Board.
Instituted in 1945, the System is a member of the Massachusetts Contributory Retirement System and is governed by Chapter 32 of the Massachusetts General Laws. Membership in the plan is mandatory immediately upon the commencement of employment for all permanent, full-time employees.
The System provides for retirement allowance benefits up to a maximum of 80% of a member’s highest three-year average annual rate of regular compensation. Benefit payments are based upon a member’s age, length of credible service, level of compensation and group classification.
Members become vested after 10 years of credible service. A superannuation retirement allowance may be received upon the completion of 20 years of service or upon reaching the age of 55 with 10 years of service. Normal retirement for most employees occurs at age 65 (for certain hazardous duty and public safety positions, normal retirement is at age 55).
A retirement allowance consists of two parts: an annuity and a pension. A member’s accumulated total deductions and a portion of the interest they generate constitute the annuity. The differential between the total retirement benefit and the annuity is the pension. The average retirement benefit is approximately 80 – 85% pension and 15 – 20% annuity.
Active members contribute either 5,7,8 or 9% of their gross regular compensation. Members joining the retirement system after January 1, 1979 must contribute an additional 2% on regular compensation earned at a rate in excess of $30,000. The percentage rate is keyed to the date upon which an employee’s membership commences. These deductions are deposited in the Annuity Savings Fund and earn interest at a rate determined by the Executive Director of the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission (PERAC) according to statute. When a member’s retirement becomes effective, his/her deductions and related interest are transferred to the Annuity Reserve Fund. Cost-of-living adjustments and any other increase in benefits imposed by state law granted between 1981 and 1996 are borne by the state.
The pension portion of any retirement benefit is paid from the Pension Fund of the System. The governmental unit employing the member must annually appropriate and contribute the amount of current year pension payments as determined by PERAC’s Actuary. Until recently, retirement systems were paying only the actual retirement benefits that were due each year. Systems had no statutory authorization to put aside any money for the future benefits of employees who are now working. Large unfunded liabilities resulted from operating upon this pay-as-you-go basis. In 1977, legislation authorized local governments to appropriate funds to meet future pension obligations.
In 1983, additional legislation was passed requiring the transfer of investment earnings (in excess of the amount credited to member accounts) into the Pension Reserve Fund. These initiatives have significantly reduced the rate of growth of the retirement systems’ unfunded liabilities, and in some systems, have actually reduced such liability.
Administrative expenses are funded through excess investment income.
Members who become permanently and totally disabled for further duty may be eligible to receive a disability retirement allowance. The amount of benefits to be received in such cases is dependent upon several factors including: whether or not the disability is work-related, the member’s age, years of credible service, level of compensation, veteran’s status and group classification.
Employees who resign from service and who are not eligible to receive a retirement allowance or are under the age of 55 are entitled to request a refund of their accumulated total deductions. In addition, depending upon the number of years of credible service, such employees are entitled to receive either 0%, 50% or 100% of the regular interest, which has accrued upon those deductions. Survivor benefits are extended to eligible beneficiaries of members whose death occurs prior to or following retirement.
The Somerville Retirement Board generally meets on the third Thursday of the month at 8:30 AM at the City Hall Annex building on 50 Evergreen Avenue in Somerville.