Trustee Wants Job And Benefits

BROOKSIDE – Pease Township Trustee Michael Bianconi plans to resign his elected trustee’s job today then seek re-appointment to the post in October in an effort to collect health care and pension benefits through the state Public Employees Retirement System.

Bianconi said he must step down for at least two months to qualify for benefits under PERS rules, but he wants to continue working as a township trustee. On Tuesday, he filed for re-election as a Pease Township trustee in the Nov. 5 general election.

The trustees intend to meet Sept. 18 to consider re-appointing Bianconi in October, prior to the election.

Bianconi, 56, retired from his full-time job at the Esmark-owned steel mill in Yorkville earlier this year. He estimates he also qualifies for about 31 years of public service benefits under PERS.

Bianconi served as township trustee for seven years prior to being elected Belmont County commissioner in 1992. He was a commissioner for the next eight years, and was again elected Pease Township trustee eight years ago in 2005.

Bianconi spent one year of active service in the military and another six years in the reserves. He also purchased additional years toward his PERS account.

“I have to resign to collect my PERS health care coverage and pension, and the reason I have to do it is that I have to do it this year,” he said. “If I don’t resign, I will not be eligible for health care, and I really want it. There’s no guarantee I get anything next year.”

Bianconi is worried the state could make further cuts to PERS in the coming months and perhaps eliminate health care coverage for retirees.

Julie Graham-Price, spokeswoman for PERS, said the Ohio General Assembly passed a new PERS law last year that took effect Jan. 7. Among other provisions, the law requires a minimum age of 55 and 32 years of service to retire without reduced benefits.

She added that the re-hiring of retired employees by the state is “generally cost-neutral to PERS.”

“Once a retiree is rehired, the retiree receives the pension that they earned and continues to contribute to the retirement system at the same contribution rates prior to retirement,” Price said. “They no longer contribute to the pension already accrued and do not accrue additional service credit. In other words, the clock stops.”

When the person retires for the final time, he or she may apply for a benefit based on the amounts contributed during their re-employment, she added.

There are 8,261 re-hired state employees currently receiving retirement benefits through PERS, according to Price.