On the future of Utah County Government 05

Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith signs a petition during a press conference to announce efforts to change Utah County's form of government Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, at the Historic Utah County Courthouse in Provo. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

Utah County will soon pay the employee retirement contributions for some public safety employees and firefighters employed by the county in an effort to retain police officers and other public safety officials and attract new talent to the field of law enforcement.

The change comes after the Utah County Commission passed a resolution on Wednesday authorizing Utah County to pick up the retirement contributions, which was prompted by a bill passed by the Utah State Legislature earlier this year allowing employers to opt in to doing so.

This will apply to employees enrolled in the Utah Retirement Systems’ Tier II Public Safety and Firefighter Retirement System.

“Due to the cost of the plan enhancements, contributions to the Tier 2 Public Safety & Firefighter Hybrid plan will be made by the employer (14%) and the employee (2.27%),” a written summary of the retirement plan by Utah Retirement Systems said. “However, an employer may ‘pick-up’ the employee’s portion of the retirement contribution and treat it as an employer contribution under IRS Code.”

Senate Bill 56, which was sponsored by Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, during this year’s general session, “requires a participating employer to make an additional nonelective contribution to an employee that is a member of the Public Safety and Firefighter Tier II Defined Contribution Plan, if the participating employer elects to pay the required member contribution as an employer pick up for employees that are members of the Public Safety and Firefighter Tier II Hybrid Retirement System,” according the bill’s description.

S.B. 56 passed unanimously through both chambers in February and was signed by Gov. Gary Herbert on March 31.

According to Utah Retirement Systems, employers who opt to pick up employee retirement contributions must take formal action by July 1.

The resolution unanimously approved by the Utah County Commission on Wednesday states that “Utah County hereby formally agrees to pay 100% of the required employee member contributions for employees covered by the Tier II Hybrid Retirement System Part of the New Public Safety and Firefighter Tier II Contributory Retirement Act and to make non-elective contributions to the defined contribution plans of employees who are covered under the Tier II Defined Contribution Plan … at the same percentage rate as the payments for those in the Tier II Hybrid System.

“Although these contributions are designated as employee contributions, they will be paid by Utah County, as the employer, in lieu of employee contributions,” the resolution said.

Commissioner Tanner Ainge questioned whether increasing retirement benefits for police officers and firefighters in the county would be an effective way of attracting young recruits, noting that a better method might be to increase salaries.

Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith responded that increasing the retirement benefits would keep Utah County competitive with agencies and other cities and counties that offer such benefits and that he would “strongly support doing this.”

“If they’re (other agencies) doing something that we’re not, that’s when people start to shop and say, ‘It’s the same job over here but I’m getting (paid) a little bit better,’” Smith said. “When I started in law enforcement, you stuck with your agency and you rode it out. And in the world and market, you just don’t see that anymore. There’s a trend of just popping around going wherever the grass is greener. And we need to do our best to keep our grass green here.”

More information about the Tier II Hybrid Retirement System can be found at http://urs.org/content/members/tier2hybrid.

Also during Wednesday’s public meeting, the Commission approved without discussion an agreement between Utah County and America’s Freedom Festival to contribute $25,000 to promote the festival’s 4th of July fireworks show, including $8,000 for digital billboard revolving ads, $15,000 for online digital ads and marketing, and $2,000 for marketing and media consultants for ad design.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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