By Pat Gruner, Staff Writer
The Daily Reflector
Finances were on the menu for State Treasurer Dale Folwell’s address to the Pitt County Chamber of Commerce during its monthly Power Luncheon Tuesday.
In a virtual meeting, Folwell discussed the state pension fund’s balance and reassured state employees that they need not worry about the retirement plan prior to fielding questions from the public.
“The pension plan now has over $116 billion in it,” Folwell said over video chat. “Moody (an private bond rating firm) came in 15 months ago, before anyone had even heard of COVID, and said that our pension system in North Carolina, that has nearly 1 million participants … was No. 1 in the country in terms of its ability to stay funded amid an economic downturn.”
Folwell said the pension plan reported an 11 percent rise in 2020 and a record $114.9 billion valuation entering 2021.
“We’re paying out more, on a yearly basis, in gross benefits to local elders and the state teachers ... than the state debt,” Folwell said. “The pension plan is in great shape. With all the angst and anxiety among you and those who may be related, who teach, protect and otherwise serve, worrying about the solidity and solvency of their pension plan is not something they should be worried about.”
On a more somber note, Folwell expressed fears about economic declines in rural North Carolina, citing a lack of tax dollars in Tyrrell County last year as an example. The county has a population of just over 4,000 people and half of its property does not pay taxes. Additionally, the county saw a 26 percent decline in sales tax between March and July of 2020.
An East Carolina University employee asked Folwell what increasing rates in retirement and insurance premiums could come in fiscal year 2022. Folwell, who’s office also manages the health insurance plan for state employees and teachers, indicated that there would be increases due to people living longer and retiring earlier.
In closing, Folwell thanked members of the Greenville Utilities Commission who recently took over sewer projects in Bethel. He also urged state residents to use the system NCCASH, which keeps track of unclaimed property and helps owners claim their money.
Finally, he left on the note that money in NC is an unbiased affair.
“All of the things that are dividing our country and our state right now, there’s no Democrat and Republican money at the treasurer’s office. There is no black and white money at the treasurer’s office. There’s no male and female money at the treasurer’s office. Everything we have here is green.”