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The Lebanon County commissioners received a glowing report on the status of their pension fund, which is in the best shape it has been in almost a decade.

Controller Bob Mettley delivered the good news contained in the 2016 Employee Retirement Fund Actuarial Report at Thursday’s Lebanon County commissioners meeting.

Just four years ago, only 69 percent of the county’s employee pension fund was covered, resulting in a downgrading of its bond rating by Standard & Poors. 

The commissioners set a goal of improving that rating by contributing more to the fund.

By using a good portion of the proceeds from the $25 million sale of Cedar Haven nursing home to cut a $41 million obligation in half, the county has managed to do that, said Mettley.

“The past few years, we’ve been trying to build ourselves up again,” he said. “The funded ratio as of Jan. 1, 2017, was 85.3 percent, which is 2.5 percent higher than the prior year. And it also is the highest level we’ve been at since Jan. 1, 2008, when we were 94 percent.”

The county was also aided by stock market gains, a commitment to make its Annual (or Actuarial) Recommended Contribution and the elimination of several hundred Cedar Haven employees from the books, Mettley said.

“We continue to move in a forward path and I would think it would sit well with them (Standards & Poors)” he said.

A year ago, Standard & Poors saw a positive trend and upgraded the county’s bond rating from B-minus to Triple B-plus with a positive outlook. A better bond rating translates to lower yields or interest rates when the county issues a bond or borrows money.

A month ago, representatives from S&P contacted the county to do a follow-up review of the county’s financials, administrator Jamie Wolgemuth said. The commissioners are still waiting for the results.

“I’m optimistic, but we’ll see,” he said. “It would be nice to get back in the A (ratings) again.”

Regardless of how S&P feels, Commissioner Bill Ames said he is proud the board was able to return the county to stable financial footing.

“I think we got serious beginning four years ago to take the right steps to do this and we set that as our goal and we’ve accomplished it,” he said. “It is not a finished process but I think we can’t do anything but be proud of what we’ve accomplished. I’m very pleased.” 

Honeywell of a Deal

In other good financial news for the county, the commissioners renewed an energy-saving program with Honeywell Corporation that guarantees making improvements – such as installing LED lighting in all county buildings and upgrading outdated infrastructure at Lebanon County Correctional Facility – will generate $400,000 in savings over the next 20 years.

This is the second extension of the program, which was initiated in 2000 and has resulted in well over $1 million in saving, the commissioners said.

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