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10-year-old error could cost town marshals in Caledonia thousands




CALEDONIA -- Two Caledonia town marshals came before the Caledonia Board of Aldermen Tuesday night to ask for some relief on an unexpected bill. 


Marshals Larry Swearingen and Steve Hatcher have both been working part time for the town of Caledonia for almost 10 years. 


The duo told the aldermen, when they were originally hired the town said the marshals would not be able to sign up for the Public Employment Retirement System in Caledonia. The reason for this, they were told, was because they were part-time employees and they already received the benefit from their full-time jobs as Lowndes County Sheriff''s Department deputies. 


Recently, at a PERS seminar, the two discovered they had been signed up for the program when they were hired. 


Normally, the retirement program deducts money from a participant''s paycheck, but no money was ever deducted from Swearingen''s or Hatcher''s. 


Now PERS is threatening penalties against the two''s retirement benefits unless about $14,000 is paid to PERS in the next 90 days. 


"We''re just asking if y''all can set this right," said Hatcher. 


Town Attorney Jeff Smith told the board they had the option of paying what the town owed on the retirement payments and could choose to pay off all interest and penalties but could not pay the principal. This would leave Swearingen and Hatcher holding a bill for about $3,500 and $4,700 respectively. 


"If it''s our fault, we should pay it," said Alderman Roy Lee Lindsey. 


Mayor Bill Lawrence indicated it would be impossible to find out exactly who made the error. 


"We''re not going to find the culprit who did the deed 10 years ago," he said. "But signing up employees for PERS, it''s the employer''s responsibility, period." 


Smith told the board they could legally present the two with promissory notes, which would allow them to pay the balance off a bit at a time. It is illegal for the body to gift money to individuals. 


The board took no action on the issue, pending Smith''s drafting of the promissory notes. However, Swearingen said he was not interested in taking out a loan from the town. 


"I''m not signing a promissory note," he said. "If it comes to that I''ll just deal with it myself. We''re just hearing two different things from different people." 


As to the PERS error and how it might affect other departments, Smith said, "This may just be the tip of the iceberg."




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