NH pension fund sees decrease in unfunded liability

Of New Hampshire�s 36,697 public pensioners�� comprised of retired police officers, firefighters and other public workers�� 459 of them, or 1.3%, were paid pensions greater than $75,000 last year, according to data from New Hampshire Retirement System spokesman Marty Karlon.

That number of $75,000-plus pensioners is up slightly from 1.2% last year and includes 65 retirees from Seacoast public jobs, three more than last year. The unfunded liability�� the difference between the amount promised to pensioners and funds available to pay them�� has edged down slightly, according to data.

New to the statewide pensioners list is retired Stratham police chief John Scippa, who had a Jan. 1, 2019, retirement date and now receives a $75,892 annual pension. Also new to the list of top public pension earners is Thomas Lamontagne, who retired from the Portsmouth Fire Department, with an $88,660 pension. The third new Seacoast addition to the top-pensioners list is retired Seabrook police detective James Deshaies with an $81,894 annual pension.

Karlon said the calendar year data for 2019 only includes the names of annuitants who received a benefit for the entire 12-month period. Anyone who retired later than the first of the year will be on next year’s list.

Like last year, Karlon reported 94% of public pension recipients received an annual pension benefit of less than $50,000, 66% receive an annual pension less than $25,000, and 29% receive an annual pension benefit of less than $10,000.

The pension system spokesman reported at this time last year the unfunded liability, as of June 30, 2018, was $4.99 billion and the retirement system was 63.6% funded. This year, he reported the unfunded liability, as of June 30, 2019, was $4.95 billion and the retirement system was 64.8% funded.

Last year, Karlon reported trust fund assets were $8.87 billion and this year he said those assets are $9.21 billion.

While the unfunded liability decreased and the trust fund grew, the number of New Hampshire pensioners went from 35,460 two years ago to 36,697 a year later.

Karlon explained, “We are now 10 years into the 30-year payoff of the liability.”

“Under the statutory funding plan, the liability was always expected to grow in the first 10 to 12 years before beginning to decline,” he said. “If actuarial assumptions are met, we are projected to see year-over-year declines in the liability, relatively small at first, and growing larger in the 2030s.”

Karlon also noted a law governing post-retirement employment changed effective Jan. 1, 2019, lowering the amount of hours retirees are allowed to work in post-retirement public jobs, known as double dipping. He said there is a grandfathering clause for retirees who were already working, while the new law created �a significant penalty for exceeding the limits on hours worked, and created a 28-day break in service requirement upon retirement,� before starting a second public job.

Retired Dover Police Chief William Fenniman remains the highest paid Seacoast pensioner with an annual annuity of $135,915. When he retired in 2007, his annual pension, which included calculations from so-called spiking at the end of his career, sparked controversy because it�s higher than his salary was as police chief. Former Manchester and Portsmouth police chief David Mara’s $135,114 pension is the second highest public pension with a Seacoast connection.

In 2019, a retired Manchester firefighter topped the list with a $155,020 pension, followed by two firefighters and a police officer from Nashua.

Aside from the three new pensioners named above, the top-paid Seacoast pensioners were the same as reported last year. Find a complete list of all the state’s 36,697 public pensions with this story at Seacoastonline.com and Fosters.com.

NH Retirement System pension recipients 2019

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