Two Kennebec County employees and one retiree are anxiously awaiting a ruling in a case where they could gain a significant boost in their retirement funds but cost the county more than $256,000.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court, in a special session at Cape Elizabeth High School, heard oral arguments Wednesday in the case of Kennebec County vs. the Maine Public Employees Retirement System. The court generally issues written rulings some weeks or months after the hearings.
The county was appealing an April 8 ruling by a superior court justice upholding a decision by the Board of Trustees of the Maine Public Employees Retirement System. The decision said the county failed in its responsibility to offer membership in the state retirement system to the three employees.
Those individuals — Carol Royer of Farmingdale, Jim Saucier of Belgrade, and Diana York of Pittston — didn’t get that opportunity, for a total of 31 years among them.
Royer was hired in 1987 and retired last year. Saucier was hired in 1985, and York in 2000.
They all joined it by 2010.
“I’m just tired of waiting to find out for sure,” said Royer, 67. “It’s either going our way or it’s not. I’d just like it to be over with.”
Royer said she was aware the arguments were taking place on Wednesday.
Walter McKee, the attorney who represented the three employees, said in April that all of them would have joined the Maine State Retirement System initially if they had been offered it.
“They said had they been, they definitely would have signed up. It’s a tremendous benefit,” McKee said following the superior court ruling in April.
In 2012, the Maine Public Employees Retirement System billed the county $256,676 for liability for the three employees, and in April 2012, the county sent $60,440 to the retirement system. The latter was the amount the county had contributed on behalf of Royer and York in a separate Aetna retirement plan.
Assistant Attorney General James M. Bowie represented the Maine Public Employees Retirement System at oral arguments and reminded the justices Wednesday about the people and the policies behind the case.
“There are real human beings involved here,” Bowie said. “And those choices determine for the rest of their lives what kind of financial security they’ll have.”
He said the county’s attorney, Warren Shay, was reading the statute “upside down.”
Bowie argued in his written brief that the trustees’ decision is supported by evidence from three administrative hearings and should be upheld.
Bowie also quoted the current law: “A person who is or would be covered by the United States Social Security Act as a result of employment by a participating local district with Social Security coverage may elect to be a member in the Participating Local District Retirement Program.”
The county, through attorney Warren Shay, argued, among other things, that the trustees lacked jurisdiction to decide that they employees were not informed about their membership option.
Shay told the supreme court justices that because Kennebec County offered Social Security, it met its obligation to the three employees by giving them notice that options were available.
In his brief, Shay maintained that the retirement system “impermissibly imposed a rule on Kennebec County requiring it to provide information to its employees about (the retirement system) that had never been announced until years after Kennebec County hired its employees.”
Shay wrote, “Retroactive imposition of rules first announced in 2007 against Kennebec County in connection with its hiring of employees many years before that is an error of law which must be reversed.”
He also maintained that the three “received sufficient information from Kennebec County to notify them of the availability” of the state retirement system and that the superior court’s decision should be reversed.
Shay’s second brief also says that if the decision is not reversed, “this case should be remanded to (the retirement system) for a new hearing before and impartial hearing officer.”
Betty Adams — 621-5631