For the seventh straight year the Schuylkill County Employees Retirement Board has denied a cost-of-living increase to county government retirees in action taken at the monthly meeting held Wednesday at the courthouse in Pottsville.

As required by a state law the commissioners have to review at least once every three years the county pension law but the law does not mandate the commissioners to grant the increase. Treasurer Jacqueline McGovern, a member of the board, suggested retirees contact their state legislators to change the law.

Commissioners Frank Staudenmeier and George Halcovage, the majority commissioners, spoke of the difficulty the board faces as it has for the past several years operating with a tight budget.

Halcovage said if the commissioners were to pay cost of living for the past seven years it would cost the county around five million dollars. He added that he hoped the retirees would understand the problem as they also are taxpayers and would not want a tax increase for this reason.

Staudenmeier added that a review of the financial status of the county it was impossible to grant the increase although the fund is in good shape. The fund is funded with current county employees paying into the fund from deductions from their salaries and county contributes a percentage. This year the county paid $3 million according to Fiscal Officer Paul Buber.

Controller Cristy D. Joy, CPA, in his monthly report, showed the market value of the fund as at the end of November was $104,220,629 and his first deputy, Ron Zimmerman, reported the fund as to date made a slight gain and was at $104,83,416.23.

Joy reported during the month of November the widow of a retiree who died recently received annuities totaling $264,850.09, six members received refunds totaling $14,553.30, and one member received a pro rata pension for descendent retirees for $24.68.

Reports overpayment

Joy announced after an audit of the healthcare rolls the county was credited $74,545.23 for monthly healthcare premiums. He announced prior to his administration, which began two years ago in January, the controller's office processed the payment for healthcare using only the cover letter and that he requested the board of commissioners forward the detail of the healthcare rolls for review.

"We make sure that we get what we pay for," said Joy. He reported statistical sampling uncovered a deceased retiree from 2008 that was still included on the rolls which caused him to make a total review which resulted in more questioned costs as follows:

Another retiree had been deceased over a year; a group of former Rest Haven business office employees that were laid off on July 1, were still present on the county's rolls until October, although they had been rehired by SAM Inc., when that firm was contracted to run Rest Haven, the county's nursing home; a former county commissioner was included twice with both a double last name and her single married name.

"What was most shocking," Joy said, was "we found someone on the rolls who was never employed by the county."

Joy reported the county's Blue Cross Blue Shields coverage costs the county around $950,000 a month or $11,500,000 a year. "Communication is the key," Joy said, "With changes made by the new board people are both talking and listening and we're getting the job done together."