By Paula Sanderson
Dalhousie University held the latest in a series of town hall meetings on Thursday to educate Dalhousie staff and faculty about their pension plans.
Approximately 70 people attended the meeting in the Charles Tupper Medicine Building to hear Katherine Sheehan, Assistant Vice-President of Human Resources at Dalhousie and Lee Crowell, director of pensions at Dalhousie discuss the current pension climate.
“It went very well,” says Sheehan, “There were a good forty minutes of questions afterwards and that’s a good sign. The goal is to get people to ask questions and get engaged in the topic.”
The town hall meeting covered a variety of topics, including the current economic situation at Dalhousie.
The government of Nova Scotia has given relief for solvency requirements to Dalhousie for one year. The relief will expire March 31, 2011. Other universities across Canada have had their solvency waived. Dalhousie is lobbying for a similar arrangement.
“We believe Nova Scotia is going to align with Ontario,” says Sheehan, “That means that it is the jointly governed plans in Ontario that are getting the solvency exemptions.”
A jointly governed plan has been proposed for Dalhousie’s pension plan.
Dalhousie would be in bad shape if the government does not approve the solvency exemption.
“It just ups the pressure on our operating budget since its another 70 million dollars out of the budget,” said Sheehan, “It will create more tension in our current environment that won’t be helpful to actually resolving the issue.”
Dalhousie’s pension plan, created in 1959, is a defined benefit plan based on a two-part formula. Employees contribute into the plan for a maximum of 35 years. This type of pension plan has come under scrutiny in the current financial climate.
There are 2,950 active members contributing to the plan with Dalhousie currently paying $24.4 million to 742 people.
“The first few sessions were the 55-plus crowd,” says Sheehan. “We are starting to see more of a mix.”
In June 2007, the pension plan was fully funded, but during the economic crisis in 2009, the pension plan lost almost $200 million in assets and was only 81 per cent covered. The economy is turning around and Dalhousie has had some gains.
“Its good news but its not going to solve all of our problems,” said Sheehan during the presentation.
There is an unfunded liability of $74 million and a solvency deficit of $129.5 million to the university’s pension plan.
Dalhousie has run town hall meetings on pension since November and will continue to run them.
“We’ll keep talking for as long as people will come and listen to us,” says Sheehan.
EDITORS CORRECTION: The figure for the operating budget is $7 million not $70 million. It should read: “It just ups the pressure on our operating budget since its another 7 million dollars out of the budget,” said Sheehan.
We apologize for this mistake.