Small local pension fund gets high marks for transparency

Still faces looming financial threat

By Robert Fellner
  • Monday, June 26, 2017

For the first time ever, a Nevada public pension fund complied with a public records request for basic pension payout data without wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money on protracted legal battles.

Despite a balance sheet roughly 1/100th the size of the state pension fund (NVPERS), the Las Vegas Valley Water District (LVVWD) retirement plan had no problem fulfilling a request for information documenting plan members’ names, pension amount and related data — information which is public under Nevada state law as well as in the vast majority of states nationwide.

This stands in stark contrast to NVPERS, which spent years defying a state Supreme Court order to release similar information; first by submitting false testimony to the Court about the location of the responsive data, and then by reengineering their records to avoid complying with future requests for the very information that the Supreme Court ordered disclosed.

Created in 1959, the LVVWD retirement plan is similar in structure to NVPERS. The main reason the plans have remained separate is that NVPERS members are not enrolled in Social Security, while LVVWD members are. Consequently, NVPERS offers richer benefits, which LVVWD offsets by the combination of being able to draw Social Security in addition to the less generous district pension upon retirement.

The 2016 pension report reveals that the District paid out $21.7 million in benefits to 538 former employees. The top three pension payouts went to:

  1. Former general manager Patricia Mulroy: $213,858
  2. Former deputy general manager Richard Wimmer: $143,013
  3. Former human resources director Patricia Maxwell: $136,101

The average pension for those who worked at least 30 years was $65,676, while the maximum Social Security benefit for a person retiring at full retirement age in 2016 was only $31,668.

"While the District’s approach to transparency is vastly superior to NVPERS — and we certainly applaud it — the two plans share the same financial difficulties plaguing most U.S. state and local pension plans nationwide," explained Fellner. 

For the 2017 fiscal year, the LVWWD plan had a funded ratio of around 71 percent — far below the 100 percent minimum target that the American Academy of Actuaries recommends.

The plan currently costs around $31 million annually, or roughly an extra 28 cents for every dollar in regular pay — an amount paid for entirely by the District on behalf of their employees.

And like NVPERS, these costs assume annual investment returns of 8 percent — an accounting method rejected by public pension plans in over 100 countries, as well as the federal and private pension plans in the U.S.

To view the entire database in a searchable and downloadable format, please visit TransparentNevada.com — the state’s largest public pay database.

For more information, contact Nevada Policy Research Institute Transparency Director Robert Fellner at RF@NPRI.ORG or 702.222.0642.