The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Retiree benefits funding at issue in Stafford
BY LINDLEY ESTES
The Stafford County School Board will hold a work session next week to discuss a $4 million contribution to the school retirees’ benefits fund.
Money going to the “Other Post Employment Benefits” trust fund is part of the county public schools’ health benefits fund for employees and retirees. The fund totaled $22.2 million in August.
The School Board’s contributions to OPEB have been a source of conflict with the Stafford Board of Supervisors for the past two budget years.
Supervisors have argued that plans in 2011 by the division to set aside $10 million for the OPEB was too much, and a lesser amount would put them on par with other localities such as Prince William County.
Stafford Supervisors Chairwoman Susan Stimpson said that the boards have reached a turning point after those initial discussions.
She said during an interview Wednesday that the money required for the annual contribution should definitely go into the OPEB trust.
She said she hopes other funds will be put toward the priorities outlined by the School Board.
In past budget deliberations, school officials have requested additional county money from supervisors for better teacher raises, preventing job cuts and school improvements.
School Board Chairwoman Stephanie Johnson said that they will discuss the overall contribution to OPEB at a work session. School Board members will also get to hear about state officials’ concerns about the amount of money going into the fund. The meeting is at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Bandy Administrative Complex.
OPEB, a trust fund created by the Virginia Association of Counties and the Virginia Municipal League, manages money localities contribute to cover future costs of retirees’ health care.
The annual contribution is set at $4 million, but more can be contributed to cover potential liability.
“It’s a question of how much safety cushion do you leave in the fund,” said Lance Wolff, Stafford schools’ new superintendent for finance.
Since the school district’s health plan is self-insured, claims are paid out of the fund.
Wolff presented information about the health benefits fund to the School Board during its last meeting on Sept. 11.
He showed how the funds are divided, as well as the total revenues and costs incurred by the fund.
He said the fund works like a savings account.
“If you don’t put away funds now, you won’t have it when the bill is due,” he said. The fund needs to reflect future liability.
“This is liability for those benefits being used by retirees and future retirees,” he said. “If it is in the fund now, they will be in a position to pay later.”
Wolff previously served Stafford County schools as the director of finance and accounting. He was also chief financial officer for the city of Portsmouth, and said from that office he “knows what it’s like to be in a position, juggling what is thrown at you.”
Wolff became the interim superintendent for finance after Wayne Carruthers, who previously held the position, left over the summer.
He called Carruthers a mentor who prepared him for the job. Carruthers served as vice chairman of the board overseeing the VACo-VML OPEB Trust in 2011-12.
Wolff said his department helps the schools manage and appropriate its money.
“We need more resources,” he said. “But we really need to figure out how to use the resources we have. In some areas, these will be minor changes, but there may be changes to the schools’ priorities and processes.”
Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org