All MASSC.O.P. members who have worked as a reserve officer or a call firefighter need to read this article. In Massachusetts, retirement system members who worked as call firefighters or reserve police officers can be credited with a maximum of five years of service for the time they held those positions. This has not changed. However, now the State is requiring members to buy back those five years of service in order to use them to calculate their pension. This is a significant change because, during the last forty years, this type of service was automatically credited to members without any contributions.
This change began last summer when the Contributory Retirement Appeal Board (“CRAB”) issued a decision in Brenton MacAloney v. Worcester Regional System and Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission CR No. 11-19 (2013). That case involved a retired Fire Chief who was required to make payments for his service as a call fire fighter in order for that service to be credited in the calculation of his pension. Since CRAB’s decision, the State (through its agency PERAC) has issued guidance to the Retirement Boards advising them that officers now need to provide make up payments for any reserve/call service for it to be considered creditable in calculating their pension.
This guidance applies only to officers retiring after June 21, 2013. For officers who actually worked as reserves or call firefighters in regular service each of the relevant five years, they will have to remit make up payments based upon the income they earned with interest accruing after June 21, 2013. Though the new change might not stand, officers should err on the side of making any such buy back payments if their board gives them that opportunity. Better to over pay and be reimbursed then to underpay and lose years of creditable service.
Things get more complicated for officers who did not work in regular service when they were on a list or possibly for officers who only worked details when on a reserve list. Previously, this time on the list was credited regardless of whether a reserve officer had worked. However, PERAC has now issued guidance to the boards stating that if an officer did not perform any reserve service in one or more of the relevant five years that the member should be required to remit contributions as if they earned three thousand dollars of regular compensation for each year.
PERAC chose three thousand dollars because it is the amount used to calculate disability pensions for reserve officers and call firefighters when there is no other comparable amount available. As the two relevant sections of the statute are not directly linked, this guidance could be flawed. Indeed, some boards are not following that portion of PERAC’s guidance and it is currently the subject of litigation.
This article is a starting point. Everyone who worked as a reserve officer or a call fire fighter needs to be aware of this change and what position their board is taking with respect to it. This is necessary to be able to properly plan for retirement. If a member encounters a problem, he or she should notify his or her local MASS C.O.P. leadership.