YOU issue: Why Not VRS?

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Here’s what readers asked for:

Charlottesville is fairly unique in having its own pension plan. Just about every other jurisdiction in the commonwealth uses the Virginia Retirement System, which offers employees the ability to transfer retirement accounts to any other VRS jurisdiction. [Does] the fact that the city has its own plan discourage experienced employees of other jurisdictions from applying for city positions?—Harold Timmeny

True, City of Charlottesville employees are not part of VRS, while Albemarle County and county and Charlottesville City school employees are. But Charlottesville is not that much of an outlier: Many of the localities listed as “participants” on the VRS website may also have their own independent pension plans.

City Treasurer Jason Vandever says that historically, independence has been seen as an advantage. “By running its own plan, the city, instead of the General Assembly, is in control of its benefit structure and funding strategy. Having local control allows the city to react to market conditions and employee culture here in Charlottesville and consider benefits and pay together when making compensation decisions.”

And it seems to be working: Returns for both plans, after accounting for costs of investment management fees, show Charlottesville’s plan has done better (see table below).

And in fact, the city’s retirement plan does allow for portability with VRS. Vandever says that he has seen many employees come from (or go to) a VRS locality, or retire on one system and then build equity in another. He notes that the city also offers a defined contribution plan that employees can choose and then take with them if they leave the city’s staff.

While Charlottesville does not maintain a website for its retirement plan as VRS does, there is an internal website managed by the city’s HR department where employees can access plan information. And retirees, employees, and members of the public can contact their designated representatives on the city’s Retirement Commission, which holds monthly meetings that are open to the public and where attendees can request information about the city’s pension plans and investment strategies.—Carol Diggs

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