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The Press Newspaper

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Public-sector employees in Ottawa County continue to submit retirement requests as the countdown begins on pending changes to Ohio’s retirement system guidelines.

County treasurer Bob Hille and board of elections director Jo Ann Friar are among the more high-profile personnel to join the list in recent weeks.

Hille will retire Dec. 31, he said. However, he will return to the job as he was re-elected for another four-year term in November. The term officially begins in September.

Last Tuesday, county commissioners Jim Sass, Steve Arndt and Mark Stahl appointed John A. Fletcher as interim treasurer as of midnight Dec. 31. In all likelihood, the committee will select Hille because of his successful re-election bid, Sass said.

On the other hand, Friar will end her 18 years of service Dec. 31 and lock in benefits before changes that take place in Ohio’s Public Employees Retirement System in 2013.

The two follow county recorder Virginia Park who retired Oct. 31 and regional planning commission director Todd Bickley, who retired in August.

The Ottawa County Democratic Central Committee picked Park for the interim position before she returns in January to her elected position. She was unopposed in the November election.

Bickley, like Friar, chose not to double-dip and ended his career with the county.

Joe Gerber was hired to replace Bickley.

The same scenario is playing out across Ohio as thousands more employees, from deputies to transportation workers, have retired or are considering it.

The reason?  The retirement system overhaul enacted by Gov. John Kasich as of January impacts everything from required years of service to health care benefits and the annual cost of living adjustment.

Hille, in a telephone interview, said the biggest motivators for his decision were the health care benefits as well as the annual 3 percent COLA figure. COLA, under the new guidelines, changes to a variable rate.

Had he waited to retire, the number of service years required increases significantly after Jan. 1, Hille noted. A person age 60 can retire now with 10 years of service. That soon changes to 20 years service, he said. He is also guaranteeing a decent health care package the carries a spousal feature, he said.

Hille, who spent many years in the private sector as a banker, earned PERS service years as treasurer as well as a stint serving on Port Clinton City Council.

“I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in January,” Hille said, explaining one of his key concerns regarding health care coverage.  “Their changes in the state are forcing me to make this decision. The point to this whole thing is the state had to make these changes to make the system solvent. I get it. But I have to look at how it affects me and protect my benefits.”

Hille said he hadn’t even considered retirement until Park made her retirement presentation to the commissioners earlier this fall. That started him to think that perhaps he should really explore the effects on him long term, he said.

He said he also considered the fact that the state health care committee would meet again in 2020 and could cause an upheaval again.

Hille figures it’s a risk he doesn’t want to take. “I don’t want to work 16 years and end up with nothing,” he said.

“I’m not blaming anybody. Again, I get it. And I’m not a proponent of double-dipping. But when you are forced to do it, you do it. I like my job. I cannot see myself not serving the people of Ottawa County,” Hille added.

The final quarter of the 2012  brings a number of other administrative changes in Ottawa County that aren’t tied to the PERS system.

In October, Jennifer Wilkins, clerk of the Ottawa County Clerk of Courts, resigned for personal reasons. The Democratic Central Committee picked Gary Kohli to fill the unexpired term. Kohli ran unopposed on the Democratic ticket in November for the clerk’s job, garnering 15,910 votes, and begins his term in January.

Auditor Jo Ellen Regal submitted her resignation as of Nov. 30, Regal beat Ottawa County Commissioner Mark Stahl in the November election. She will be sworn-in in January.

In the interim, commissioners appointed Debra M. Baumgartner as the acting auditor effective Nov. 30 until the time that the central committee selects someone to fulfill Regal’s unexpired term.

The democratic central committee has rescheduled its meeting from Dec. 10 to Dec. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Riverview Care Center Complex on State Route 163.

The meeting is being held to discuss and appoint someone to fill the auditor’s position. 

The meeting is open to the public but only central committee members may vote on the appointment.

The committee will also be meeting soon after Hille's retirement date to appoint a successor to fill this unexpired term, according to Dan Laity, committee chairman.

(News Editor Larry Limpf contributed to this story)

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