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Texas steps up pressure on retirement plans that are late with filings

For almost two decades, Pecos Fire Chief Freddy Contreras has played a lead role in the 32-member volunteer Fire Department of this small West Texas town. For that, he is supposed to receive a small pension when he retires -- if the pension fund is still there.

The city, which helps manage the fund, is trying to clear up some financial discrepancies, he said.

"We're looking forward to something," said Contreras, who has a day job as a criminal investigator with the Pecos district attorney's office.

In April, it will be a year past the deadline that the fund was expected to file key documents with the state pension oversight board, records show. Now, Pecos is under added pressure to get its finances in order. Members of the Texas Pension Review Board are expected to tighten the rules on those that bust deadlines for filing financial data about their public employee retirement plans.

"It's part of our plan to improve reporting and monitoring," said Chris Hanson, executive director of the state board.

So far, almost 60 public retirement plans for fire department, city, school, water department, hospital and appraisal district employees are on the state board's list of "delinquent" plans. In Tarrant County, that includes some plans for Arlington employees.

Arlington officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The noncompliance list also includes plans for some workers in Johnson and Denton counties and firefighter relief and retirement plans in cities like Waxahachie, Wichita Falls, Pecos and Pharr. Even a few housing authorities are on the list.

Noncompliance means a plan is late in filing up-to-date information about its membership, financial data, board of directors, investment policies and actuarial valuations.

The state board needs the information to help monitor plans' financial health, Hanson said. The board has no enforcement power but can put pressure on plans to conform to best-practices standards.

Much of the noncompliance is due to a lack of understanding of the deadlines, Hanson said. So the state board has increased its communication, he said. Plans are being asked to provide suggestions for improving communication.

"We're trying to up our contact with plans," Hanson said. "So we need to get input from the plans and the public."

What's more, the state board has 11 staffers total now compared with two several years ago. The board also depends on a database now that alerts staffers to plans that are approaching compliance deadlines and are delinquent.

The board is expected to review a proposal to tighten deadlines at its June 13 meeting.

On Tuesday, the board released its 2011 Guide to Public Retirement Systems in Texas.

At its summer meeting, the board will also likely discuss a timetable for sending notices to plans that their documentation is due.

For example, the board currently must send notices to plans 60 days before they are expected to file documents. After the information is late by 60 days, the board sends a notice that the plan is delinquent.

A proposed policy would send a second notice 15 days before the documentation is due, a procedure that's been in place recently and improved compliance, Hanson said. And plans would receive a 30-day delinquency notice, shortening the time frame. Other changes are under way, he said.

Online: The 2011 report

on public pensions,

tinyurl.com/2011pensions

Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705

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