SOMERSET – Buoyed by a strong market, Somerset County’s retirement fund grew by more than $6 million in 2019 – a nearly 20% jump that the fund hasn’t experienced since before the recession, county officials said this week.
Sewickly-based Vescio Asset Management delivered the news to county commissioners Tuesday, saying the portion the firm manages jumped from more than $34 million at the end of 2018 to $40.9 million.
Given the fact several hundred former county employees are drawing benefits from the fund throughout the year, it’s a remarkable return for the county, President Commissioner Gerald Walker said.
“That’s the kind of news that has to make commissioners smile because that (kind of growth) doesn’t happen every year,” he said. “We knew the fund did well but we didn’t expect this.”
By comparison, the fund has averaged returns of approximately 6% since 2014, reports show.
Over that same span, the fund recorded a 2.52% loss one year before reporting a 13.6% gain in 2017.
“It’s nice to have years like this ... because you don’t always have them,” Vescio’s Portfolio Manager Kathryn Constantakis said, crediting strong technology stock investments as one reason for the gains.
Through mandated contributions, the county has contributed between $1 million and $2 million additional dollars in recent years to keep the funded from a liability standpoint. Annual contributions have been stepped down in recent years as interest rates have improved.
As of Dec. 31, Somerset County’s pension fund covered 377 “active” plan members who are either receiving benefits or eligible, chief clerk Sonya Augustine said.
Approximately 660 employees contribute, she added.
A separate, smaller portion of the county’s retirement fund – $15.7 million as of December 2018 – is managed by C.S. McKee Investment Managers, of Pittsburgh. Augustine said the county is anticipating an update on that fund’s performance in March.