If you want to retain good people, providing for their retirement is important. A statewide plan in West Virginia developed specifically for public EMS providers is designed to do that, and help them make EMS their permanent career.
The state's EMS Retirement System (EMSRS) became effective January 1, 2008. Under it, employees contribute part of their monthly salary, their employer kicks in some more, and the West Virginia Investment Management Board invests it to grow.
"I think they still have some retention challenges, but I know they're thrilled to be able to offer this benefit," says Terasa Miller, chief operating officer of the West Virginia Consolidated Public Retirement Board, which administers the program. "Our EMS community worked for many years lobbying the legislature to create this retirement plan, so it's very near and dear to their hearts."
The plan was ultimately passed by the legislature in 2007, and 15 agencies initially chose to participate. Their existing employees were given the opportunity to join, and new hires were automatically enrolled beginning in 2008. Now the EMSRS has more than 500 active members. As of its last valuation in July 2009, it was 63.7% funded, with assets of $17.17 million and an unfunded liability of $9.8 million.
Active employees contribute 8.5% of their gross monthly salary. (That rate will increase to 10.5% if the EMSRS isn't 70% funded by July 1, 2012. It passed that threshold back in 2008, but then slipped back with the market decline.) Their employers add an additional 10.5%, for a total combined contribution of 19% of the employee's salary per month.
Benefits can be paid starting in 2011. Working EMSRS members can claim them upon reaching age 50 when age plus contributory service equals 70, or upon reaching age 60 and completion of 10 years of contributory service. Members whose covered employment has ended must attain age 50 and complete 20 years of contributory service, or reach age 62 with five or more years of service. Members at least 45 years old with 20 years of service are eligible for early retirement.
Members' accrued benefits are calculated by multiplying their final average salary (the average of the highest annual compensation received during covered employment for any five consecutive plan years within the last 10 years of service) by their years of credited service, then multiplying that result by a benefit percentage determined by the plan's level of funding. If the plan is less than 75% funded, that percentage is 2.6% for years 1 through 20, 2.0% for years 21 through 25 and 1.0% for years 26 through 30. If the plan is 75% funded or better, the multiplier for years 1 through 20 increases to 2.75%.
Benefits can be paid in a variety of ways. The greatest monthly payment comes by way of a straight-life annuity paid until death. There are also joint survivor annuities by which surviving spouses of members who die can receive percentages of their monthly payments (50%, 66.67%, 75% or 100%). Finally there's a 10-year certain life annuity that provides guaranteed payments for 120 months even if a member dies, and continues to pay if a member lives more than 10 years past retirement.
DEATH AND DISABILITY
If a plan member dies in the line of duty, their surviving spouse receives either two-thirds of the deceased's compensation for the preceding 12 months or, if the member dies after retirement age, the monthly amount the spouse would have received had the member retired the day before dying and elected a 100% joint and survivor annuity with the spouse as the joint annuitant. If a death isn't job-related but the deceased has been a plan member for 10 years or more, that spouse gets either half the compensation received in the preceding 12 months or, if the member dies after retirement, the monthly amount the spouse would have received had the member retired the day before dying and elected a 100% joint and survivor annuity.