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Luzerne County pension fund growth highlighted

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Luzerne County’s employee pension fund grew to approximately $300.1 million at the end of June, county Budget/Finance Division Head Brian Swetz announced Wednesday.

The fund had plunged from $210 million in 2007 to $151.8 million before Morgan Stanley took over as pension advisor in October 2008.

At the end of 2012, the first year of the county’s home rule government structure, the fund was valued at approximately $202.2 million, Swetz said.

Since then, the fund value has increased approximately 50%, said Swetz, who is among the county Retirement Board members overseeing the fund.

The fund had positive returns eight years since 2012, including this year to date, he said.

“Since 2017, many changes were made to both the plan composition as well as the plan funding and pricing,” Swetz said, crediting county council for making “critical decisions.”

He cited the administration and council’s decision to use $8.6 million from one-time revenue windfalls in 2017 to make a double pension subsidy payment, correcting a decade-old deferral problem that had caused the fund to miss out on investment earnings.

The administration also has been paying subsidies earlier, instead of waiting until the end of each year, to get money into the fund faster, he said.

In another example, Swetz said the Retirement Board had voted to lower the fund’s assumed rate of return to 7% to make it more attainable.

This year’s taxpayer subsidy into the fund remained at $14.5 million, county officials have said.

Shoring up is necessary to close a shortfall that emerged years ago, when investment earnings and employee contributions stopped keeping pace with obligations for future pensions that are guaranteed by law.