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Fairfax supervisors plan to extend 'retirement-buyback' options

More public-safety personnel will now be eligible to participate

Fairfax County supervisors in mid-July plan to extend retirement-buyback options to more of the county’s public-safety personnel.

Supervisors on May 21 allowed sworn county police officers, uniformed Fire and Rescue Department personnel and animal-protection police who have prior active-duty military service or full-time work with another U.S. federal, state or local law-enforcement agency to buy up to four years’ credit toward their retirement plans beginning July 1.

The policy applies to personnel participating in the Police Officers and Uniformed retirement systems and matches offerings from the Virginia Retirement System, which in the last six years has seen 0.12 percent of its members buy military-service credit.

The supervisors’ action accords with recent collective-bargaining agreements negotiated with the International Association of Firefighters Local 2068 and Southern States Police Benevolent Association, but does not apply to all public-safety personnel.

Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office employees, police helicopter pilots and public-safety communications personnel do not qualify and some testified at the meeting that this was not in keeping with the military’s ethos or the county’s equity policies.

Supervisors plan to vote July 16 to include the above groups in the policy. County staff also recommend allowing the purchase of service credits by employees who were full-time public-safety employees at private or public universities in the United States.

The board will make the code amendment retroactive to July 1 so date-of-service purchase-cost calculations for all employees will start at the same time. Employees will have up to 30 days from the time of adoption to file the requisite paperwork with the county.

Participants must pay the difference between the retirement benefit they would receive with those credits, less the value of the benefit without them. They either can pay the entire sum up-front at time of purchase, possibly by rolling over funds from a deferred-compensation account, or contribute them with interest over a period of up to four years.

Future benefit costs will vary by employee, depending on how long they live and work and the amounts of their salary increases and retirement cost-of-living adjustments.

About 30 public-safety personnel have taken advantage of the new policy since its adoption, Deputy Director of Retirement Administration Brad Baker said June 18 at the supervisors’ Personnel Committee meeting.

Supervisor Andres Jimenez (D-Mason), who chairs the committee, said the outcome showed how collective bargaining can influence policy for the better. The retirement-buyback extension also will help the county recruit and retain employees, he said.

Supervisor Patrick Herrity (R-Springfield) disagreed that the policy change will not cost the county anything, saying participating employees will be able to retire – and need to be replaced – four years earlier.

Several supervisors asked county staff to examine whether other employees with public-safety-adjacent jobs should be eligible for retirement buybacks. The county was “caught flat-footed” by not including the employees who now will be added to the policy, said Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay (D).

Public-safety agencies consider other positions not now covered to be part of the family, said McKay, adding, “We need to look at the actual function of the people involved.”

“We need to make sure we aren’t leaving people behind,” agreed Supervisor Jimmy Bierman (D-Dranesville).