COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina’s law enforcement officers and firefighters will likely be required next year to put more of their salaries toward retirement benefits than other public workers, according to a newspaper report.

The Public Employee Benefit Authority is recommending that officers and firefighters put 7.84 percent of their paychecks toward their pensions starting next July, The State newspaper reported Thursday. That’s compared to 7.5 percent that teachers and workers in state and local governments will pay.

The difference for about 27,000 officers and firefighters statewide is about $126 more next year on average.

A law signed in June reforming the pension system requires all workers to pay more. But state consultants told the board that 7.5 percent is not enough to keep the long-term liability of the Police Officers Retirement System within state guidelines.

That system is separate from the main retirement system, as their benefits differ.

The authority’s board met for the first time Wednesday. The reform law created the 11-member board, whose appointees include four beneficiaries of the state retirement plans. Its recommendations go to the Budget and Control Board for an up-or-down vote. That board next meets Oct. 30.

“We didn’t have a choice,” said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, a PEBA board member. “Looking at the system — making sure the system is going to be viable and people are not losing money — then yes, I think we had to do what we did today.”

But Jeff Moore of the state Sheriff’s Association says the hike represents a double-whammy, considering health insurance increases slated to take effect in January.

Under the pension reform law, all public workers will contribute 8 percent of their salaries toward their pensions beginning in July 2014. They currently contribute 7 percent; up until July 1 of this year, it was 6.5 percent.

The board also voted to require police and fire departments put more into the system for their employees as well. The increase requires an additional $3.7 million.

First responders aren’t the only group with their own pension plan. The National Guard, judges and prosecutors, and current legislators also have separate systems. The reform law closes the legislative system to anyone newly elected.

The board’s recommendations also mean taxpayers would pay an additional $1.3 million for the Legislature’s pension plan, $600,000 for the National Guard’s plan and $418,006 for judges and solicitors.

If the pension law hadn’t passed, taxpayers likely would be ponying up an additional $147 million in 2013-14 for public pensions. The threat of that looming bill helped secure final passage of the reform proposal on the last day of the regular legislative session.


Information from: The State,