Supervisors push for both sides to meet in SRHS pension battle

Supervisors push for both sides to meet in SRHS pension battle

JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Singing River Health System retirees are taking their fight for their pension funding back to Jackson County Supervisors. Unlike past meetings, on Monday they were met with less resistance and more assistance from the board and county attorney. Both sides are hoping to finally bring an end to the pension saga.

"We are willing to help y'all anyway we can," said Board President Barry Cumbest.

Supervisors told retirees they will not give up helping them fight for the retirement money that was promised to them by Singing River Health System.

Currently, the hospital is proposing paying retirees 88 percent of their checks. Many of them reject that offer.

"It is not just for us. It is for people who are going to retire tomorrow or next year. They are going to have the same problem if we are not careful," said retiree Kitty Aguilar.

County Attorney Paula Yancey explained to retirees that supervisors have the power to back the health system's bonds and appoint its trustees. As far as making major decisions for the hospital and accessing specific records, the board has little to no authority.

"That has been one of the challenges the county itself has faced. It is kind of like an adult 21-year-old. You may have created them, but when they get a certain age, they can do what they want, and they can make their own decisions," said Yancey.

Yancey said that's why late last year supervisors entered into agreement with the health system to investigate its finances. They have since created a database to help find financial solutions to the plan that's underfunded by more than $140 million.

"Basically, what this thing does is you can sit there and give it what ifs and make assumptions and it would tell you what those what ifs look like long term, kind of like a payment plan," said Yancey.

Board members said the research will do little good if retirees and hospital officials don't sit down at one table and reach an agreement.

"We need to get what the total cost is out to the retirees," said Supervisor Troy Ross.

"I do want to meet with the hospital. I do not have a lawyer, and I would rather speak for myself," retiree James Dowdy said.

While some in the crowd agree, others are not sold on having another meeting with no real results.

"The problem is not the pension plan. That is just like a disease and that is just the symptom. The problem is the secrecy and corruption," said retiree Paul Wise.

County officials said they received around 5,000 hospital documents to create the database with pension funding payment scenarios. Those scenarios are expected to be posted on the county's website this week.

As for the health system, officials say the 88 percent proposal is now in the hands of the court.

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