PROVIDENCE— It was made quite clear during Thursday night’s informational session that state government officials are astounded that neither the Coventry Town Council nor School Committee want to take responsibility for the severely underfunded School Related Personnel pension plan.
Members of the RI Pension Study Commission held a roundtable discussion to try and initiate conversation between Coventry’s school related personnel (SRP), their board of trustees, the school committee and the town council.
The study commission began addressing issues regarding locally administered pension plans following the passage of the pension reform act.
The SRP plan in Coventry is currently 35 percent funded with a $24 million pension liability.
Rosemary Booth Gallogly, Director of Revenue for the state, explained that the commission is working to ensure that all plans are 60 percent funded in 20 years and 100 percent funded within 30 years.
Right now there are 349 participants in the SRP pension plan “and basically, we heard when Coventry came in before, that the council and the committee have determined that it’s not their responsibility to submit an improvement plan,” Booth Gallogly said.
Town Council President Gary Cote defended the council, explaining to the commission members that in the council members’ legal opinion they have no responsibility because they never administered the plan or had any control of it throughout the years.
He read a portion of the original plan document — drawn up in 1977 — which states that, “neither the administrator, the employer nor the union in any way guarantees the plan funds, nor guarantees any payment to any person. The liability of the employer, the union or the administrator to make payments under the plan will be limited to the assets held under the plan which are available for that purpose.”
Town Manager Thomas Hoover clarified that the most recent document amended for this plan was from 2008 — the same year the board of trustees was formed.
“As a council I think we have a moral obligation to the 35,000 people who elected us to office to represent their best interests,” added Cote. “And I don’t believe forcing them to take responsibility for a $24 million unfunded pension liability that clearly through the original plan document is not their responsibility is the moral thing to do for the taxpayers.”
He explained that the contract calls for a 12.5 percent contribution from the council and the school committee, “which has been met 100 percent,” he affirmed.
Paul Doughty, President of the Providence Firefighters’ Union and member of the study commission, explained that he received a document which contradicts the 1977 documentation.
A portion of the document states “this type of pension pays you level monthly payments for as long as you live,” said Doughty.
Town attorney Vincent Ragosta, Jr. explained that part of the council’s frustration is the fact that multiple documents discuss the pension plan and it becomes difficult to organize them all into one pristine document.
“So in my opinion, I think a way to address this problem is to get a determination from the Superior Court by an action for declaratory relief,” he added.
Mark Dingley, Representative for General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, explained that the town is relying on a provision from a 1977 document, which has been amended.
For the rest of this story and more local news, pick up a copy of the Coventry Courier.