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Legislation on Barnstable County Sheriff’s Pension Liability Signed into Law by Governor Baker

Peake bill will realize over $1 million in savings to be put to COVID-19 response on Cape Cod

BOSTON – Cape Cod lawmakers scored a major victory after legislation that transfers an expensive Barnstable County budget obligation to the state government was signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker on Monday night. H.5210, An Act relative to the unfunded pension liability for retired sheriff’s department employees in Barnstable county, finally removes Barnstable County’s responsibility to fund the pensions of retirees from the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office and transfers that obligation to the state budget. The savings the County expects to realize will be diverted to the ongoing economic and public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This bill finally allows Barnstable County to join every other county in the Commonwealth in being relieved of the burden of the unfunded pension liability from the Sheriff’s department State Representative Sarah Peake (D Provincetown). It took meetings multiple meetings with the Administration, colleagues, House Ways and Means Chairman Michlewitz, and his staff to get this done. County Commissioner Chair Ron Bergstrom, County Manager Jack Yunits, and I practically cut grooves in the marbled state house floors as we went from office to office advocating for this legislation,” continued Representative Peake. “Their effective advocacy was unparalleled. I would like to thank House Ways and Means Chairman Michlewitz for his support of this bill and his help in moving it to the floor of the House. This was a true team effort This will be a real game changer for county finances. Among other things, it will allow the county to continue its important work around testing and vaccination during this COVID 19 crisis,  said the Representative.”

The Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office became a state controlled agency in 2010, but the regional government continued to be responsible for employee pensions for eleven years. The County’s budget primarily comes from fixed revenue streams, while the pension obligations grow exponentially. Funding this obligation into the future would consume a larger amount of Barnstable County’s budget forcing cuts to critical regional services. During both the 191st and the 190th legislative session, Representative Peake filed legislation to relieve the County of its obligations. The legislation finally passed the House in December 2020 “For the duration of the COVID 19 crisis, Barnstable County regional government has been an invaluable partner in saving lives and livelihoods on Cape Cod especially for our most vulnerable residents,” said State Senator Julian Cyr (D Truro) This legislation puts Barnstable County on a level playing field with all other counties pension liability. More importantly, the saving s will enable the County to provide an unprecedented level of resources through the last leg of this pandemic, where their expertise is needed now more than ever.

“I have been working on this issue since I was Deputy Speaker of Barnstable County. This was a united effort with the leadership of Representative Peake, Senator Cyr, Former Senator Terry Murray, and the tireless efforts of Ron Bergstrom and Jack Yunits Jr., from Barnstable County,” said State Senator Susan L. Moran (D Falmouth) “This legislation tremendously benefits the residents of Barnstable County by freeing up funds for direct benefit to residents including immediate life saving measures in COVID 19 testing and vaccinations to longer term projects like clean water, health, climate and infrastructure improvements.”

Senator Cyr and Senator Moran co sponsored Peake’s legislation in the Senate. In the final days of the legislative session, Cyr and Moran penned a letter to their Senate colleagues arguing the economic case for shifting the obligation to the Commonwealth citing the number of public
employees already funding state pension obligations and the existing strains on the County budget. The bill was favorably reported out of committee and passed by the Senate in the final hours of the legislative session teeing it up for the Governor’s signature. On Monday January 11th the bill was signed into law.

“I remain sincerely grateful for the continued teamwork with my friends and colleagues in the Cape Islands legislative delegation,” said State Representative Tim Whelan (R Brewster). “Many of the good works we accomplished this past legislative session for Cape Cod and the Islands are due to our setting ideologies aside and ‘moving the ball down the field’ on behalf of the constituents we serve. Barnstable County government continues to be a strong force for good
in our region and I look forward to our delegation’s work with the County in this new legislative term.”

“Finally, after 11 years after Massachusetts transferred the remaining seven sheriff’s offices from county departments to state agencies under the state accounting and budgeting system, the Commonwealth has made good on its responsibility to fund the pensions of Barnstable County
Sheriff’s Office employees. This was a major piece of unfinished business from the Section 22 Special Commission on Sheriffs, which I served on in 2011 12. Many thanks to my Democratic colleagues who were instrumental in convincing House and Senate leadership that this needed to
be done,” said State Representative David T. Vieira (R East Falmouth).

Thanks to the efforts of our Cape delegation, particularly Senators Cyr and Mo ran and Representative Peake, Barnstable County can now dedicate the increased staffing and financial resources needed to combat the COVID 19 pandemic on Cape Cod said Ron Bergstrom, Chair of the Barnstable County Com mission My thanks also to Governor Baker and to our Administrator Jack Yunits who was instrumental in this spearheading this effort. “We cannot thank the delegation enough under the leadership of Representative Peake and
Senators Cyr and Moran for pounding through walls to get this bill through. Now, local tax revenue will remain local, committed to building a strong regional public health response to the pandemic and continuing forward to serve the wellbeing and quality of life for all Cape
Codders,” said Jack Yunits Jr, Barnstable County Administrator We are committed to investing with and working as a partner with the Governor to expand testing and vaccination sites as quickly as possible.”

In 2010, when the state absorbed the assets of most county governments in Massachusetts, it left several counties with the responsibility of funding sheriff’s pensions. Corrective legislation passed in 2014 rectified this liability for some Massachusetts counties, but including Barnstable County was not a priority of the Board of Regional Commissioners at that time. Amidst the onslaught of COVID 19 related expenditures, the present day Commissioners worked assiduously with the Cape and Islands legislative delegation to advocate for the Peake’s bill to
become law. The Governor’s signature finally relieves the Barnstable County budget of obligations that peer county governments have long been exempt from.

The unfunded sheriff’s pension liabilities totaled $1.6 million in the most recent revision of the FY2021 Barnstable County budget, or 8% of the $20.1 million budget The County expects to use the realized savings to expand COVID 19 testing, assist with vaccine distribution, and provide economic relief to those affected by the pandemic in the coming year.