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RETIREMENT SYSTEM PRESENTS SALARY STUDY

Utah Retirement System employees are being paid 5 percent less than their counterparts in the private sector but 7 percent more than state government workers in similar positions, according to system officials.

Those findings, attributed to a system-funded study, were released Monday. However, system officials declined at the same time to release a copy of the $20,000 study by the Atlanta-based firm of Mercer Meidinger & Hansen.The reported results differ sharply from what the legislative auditor general's office found last year when lawmakers decided to take a look at the $3.2 billion system that functions as an independent agency.

The legislative audit found that employees earned salaries an average of 27 percent higher than market and an average of 23 percent higher than paid for comparable positions in state government.

In the most extreme case cited by the legislative audit, the salary range for the assistant to the system director was calculated at 75 percent higher than market and 49 percent above a similar state job.

Retirement System Executive Director Dee Williams said the study paid for by the system came up with different results because more detailed information was used in compiling it.

While the legislative audit compared the midpoint of salary ranges for selected positions in the system, the Mercer study relied on actual earnings for each of the 108 different jobs.

Legislative Auditor General Wayne Welsh said he has not yet seen the Mercer study and declined to comment on its reported findings because his office is conducting a follow-up audit on the system.

"I think the $20,000 reflects our commitment to find the truth. It's not a made-to-order study. It's the truth," Williams said, adding that the study will be made available after employees whose jobs are affected are notified.

Ten employees are expected to be told their salaries are being frozen because they are already earning too much under a new salary structure based on the study, according to Retirement System Human Resource Director Don Pugmire. One of those employees is the assistant to the director, who Pugmire said has been making just under $35,000 annually. The most the assistant can earn under the new salary scale is $32,822.

And Pugmire said another 11 will see their salaries frozen as of July 1, when employees are scheduled to receive a 4 percent pay increase similar to what the Legislature approved for state workers.

Neither Williams nor Pugmire was concerned that Retirement System employees make more money than state workers in similar positions. Williams said the system has to compete with the private sector for much of its work force.

But Gov. Norm Bangerter's chief of staff, Bud Scruggs, said he could see no reason why system employees should be making more than state workers in similar jobs.

"I just don't think there's a significant difference between the quality of our employees or the work that they do that will justify a 7 percent differential," he said.

A spokesman for the Utah Public Employees Association, which represents some employees working in the system as well as state and local government workers, said the study confirms what the organization has suspected all along.

Steve Hansen said that the UPEA "couldn't go along" with allegations that system workers were overpaid. Those allegations surfaced last October, when the legislative audit was released.

The system undertook the study last November at the request of the legislative auditor general's office. The study, completed in April, was reviewed by the Utah State Retirement Board last month.