Botkins refutes OPERS

Staff Writer
BOTKINS — An Ohio Public Employee Retirement System (OPERS) official says the agency is confident they made the correct interpretation of the Ohio Administrative Code that led to a decision effectively disqualifying previous council members from drawing funds from the account the state’s Public Employee Retirement System (PERS).
However, Botkins officials are in disagreement with the decision, and they are not yet ready to give up the fight.
The problem arose after new village Fiscal Officer Tammy Ganger was hired in March. Granger contacted OPERS officials for help in applying the funds into the proper accounts. The agency sent a worker to Botkins to assist, and it was determined by agency officials that councilors did not qualify for PERS. Ohio Administrative Code established that in order to qualify for PERS, employees must be paid on a salary or hourly basis.
Botkins councilors are paid on a per meeting basis at $50, and OPERS officials determined that to be a fee, which does not qualify.
Village Solicitor Stan Evans has been in contact with the agency, and told councilors at its July 9 meeting that while the agency was cordial, that they were immovable on their position.
“It’s an Internal Revenue Service rule,” OPERS Communcations Manager Julie Graham-Price said. “Once the money is invested by the village it cannot be returned. It will be applied as a credit for future obligations.”
Graham-Price said employees were still eligible to receive their portions paid into the fund as a refund, but that IRS rules prevented them from refunding the village.
The decision could affect other area councils. Waynesfield and Uniopolis both have village council members paid on a per meeting basis and had one or more council members paying into the fund.
In Cridersville the problem could be compounded as councilors are paid a $500 salary as well as on a per-meeting basis. Buckland councilors are paid on a per-meeting basis, but all six opted out of paying into PERS.
Wapakoneta was the only area council paid strictly on a salary basis.
Village Administrator Jesse Kent said it was almost impossible to determine how much the village has paid in since the legislation was enacted in 1975.
Councilor Doug Greve, who has been on council for more than 10 years and also was a longtime member of the Botkins Fire Department, said he could possibly lose thousands of dollars if OPERS’ position is allowed to stand.
Five of the six council members were paying into fund, with employees paying in 10 percent and the village kicking in a 14 percent match.
Mayor Steve Woodruff said the council will continue to look into the situation.
“Ultimately it is the council that will decide how to pursue this,” Woodruff said. “I believe they will continue to look into the situation and it will be discussed further. My standpoint is I disagree with their decision that this is a fee. We are disappointed with their decision.”
A call to Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office has not yet been returned to comment on the issue.