By Jeb Bladine • President / Publisher • 

Jeb Bladine: Law change allows working pensions

It’s Day 26 of 39 “Dog Days of Summer,” and America is sweltering from coast to coast. The sizzling heat wave finally moderated in the East but not in the Southwest; locally, people are escaping to the coast to avoid triple-digit temperatures.

This seems like a good time to off-load a slow-simmering column topic that may have limited pizazz, but perhaps some historic-record interest.

When people told me that prominent local officials now work full time while collecting benefits from the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System, I said that’s not possible. But I was wrong.

The 2019 Oregon Legislature increased limits on annual “workback” hours from 1,039 to 2,080, and public officials throughout Oregon understandably jumped at the opportunity. That change was made effective for five years, from 2020-2024, and some believe it will be extended.

PERS once paid career public employees pensions reaching 50 percent of “final average salary” – 60 percent for public safety employees. Final average salary is based on top-three earning years plus statutory add-ons.

By 2000, some irresponsible state actions sent many of those pensions to 100 percent of final average salary, and higher. Over time, the state reduced those excesses for new employees, but to sustain continuing statewide pension payments many local governments now pay more than 30 percent of their payroll to PERS.

McMinnville School District, with 2022-23 payroll of $52.94 million, will pay $14.05 million to PERS (26.5 percent). That’s only because two employee groups at District 40 still pay their own 6 percent PERS share.

The city, on payroll of $19.2 million, will pay $6.5 million to PERS – 33.3 percent. And while Yamhill County pays a much lower percent of salaries, its annual payment to PERS has almost doubled from $5.5 million paid in 2018-19.

Back to the new law: Past workback agreements often allowed teachers to begin receiving PERS benefits at the start of a new calendar year, but finish the school year working full time. That limited use of workback is now much expanded.

Yamhill County has only one employee on full-time workback. The school district has four workback contracts, with two ending in September. Former Superintendent Maryalice Russell and three other district employees did a year of workback before retiring.

The practice is more widely used by the City of McMinnville, including agreements with City Manager Jeff Towery, Police Chief Matt Scales, Fire Chief Richard Leipfert and seven other employees.

Towery’s PERS benefit is 56 percent of his final average salary. Scales adds 61 percent, and Leipfert just 19 percent. The highest PERS benefit percentages go to MPD Sergeant Dwayne Willis at 70 percent, Recreation Supervisor Jason Hafner at 64 percent and police Captain Samuel Symons at 62 percent. Assistant Fire Chief Deborah McDermott receives 44 percent.

Two former city employs had one-year workback agreements, and three other current employees on workback do not yet appear in the public PERS database.

Towery said the city’s previous pandemic-period furlough program was going to reduce final average salaries for some employees, prompting them to retire under PERS and seek a workback agreement with the city.

The city manager said it’s difficult finding people to fill key positions, so this law – which he thinks may be extended beyond 2024 – keeps experienced people in place and saves the city from paying costs of their 6 percent employee PERS share.

There wasn’t much fanfare when legislators amended the law, and it remains to be seen if it becomes a permanent change.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at or 503-687-1223.


Don Dix

Jeb -- you wrote --The 2019 Oregon Legislature increased limits on annual “workback” hours from 1,039 to 2,080, and public officials throughout Oregon understandably jumped at the opportunity.

At 160 hrs./mo. (20 days), a year only has 1920 hrs. (and many never spent that much time @ work normally). Makes one wonder how large is the pay rate per hour, yes?

And if the legislature remains in solid control of the Portland Ds, the real question is 'when', not 'if' the extension occurs.

Sam E.

It’s based on 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year. Granted, most people don’t work that but that is the maximum for full time.

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