KY Capitol

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Right before the 2019 legislative session ended on Thursday, Kentucky lawmakers passed a bill giving pension relief to so-called quasi-government agencies.

“Quasis” are private organizations that receive state funding for their services, including some health departments, rape crisis centers, and mental health organizations.

But the relief provided by House Bill 358 is only temporary, and agencies such as the Springhaven domestic violence shelter in Elizabethtown will soon face an almost impossible decision.

Springhaven Executive Director Tanya Thomas told WDRB the Kentucky Retirement System was a “very, very good deal” when her organization joined in 2002.

But then the deal began to turn sour.

“The rates started going up, and we thought, ‘What are we going to do with this,’” Thomas said.

As the system fell deeper into the hole, the shelter's contribution jumped from 5.8 percent of its payroll in 2002 to 49.47 percent this year and a possible 84 percent next year.

“Now we're at a point where it's like the point of no return,” said Thomas.

House Bill 358 freezes employer contributions at the current level for one year.

But by December, agencies like Springhurst face a decision: leave the system and pay a crippling penalty, or stay in and face staggering contribution rates.

“We really don't want to get out, but we're between a rock and a hard place,” said Thomas.

The chairman of the Senate budget committee agreed the bill leaves no good options.

“There’s nothing but bad choices involved with this, and this is the best of all of those,” said Sen. Chris McDaniel. “The options for bad for the general fund, for the taxpayer, for the delivery of services, and we’re trying our best to strike a balance.”

Shonna Sheckles, the victims’ advocate for Springhaven, knows she could lose the retirement she has paid into for nearly 20 years.

“It’s a possibility we could walk away with nothing, and I don't think that is fair,” she said.

But Sheckles said she is more concerned about her clients, if the shelter closes.

“It's like the rug has been pulled out from underneath of everyone,” said Sheckles. “I have the ability to get up. They might not.”

Thomas said she wants to do what's best for Springhaven and the staff. But right now she does not know what ‘best’ looks like

“I don't want to give up. I'm not a giver upper,” she said. “I will hang in there until the end if I can find any possible way to do it.”

Lawmakers expect Gov. Matt Bevin will sign the bill.

A special legislative task force is still working to craft a long-term solution to the pension crisis that can pass the General Assembly.

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I cover a range of stories for WDRB, but really enjoy tracking what's going on at our State Capitol. I grew up on military bases all over the world, but am a Kentuckian at heart. I'm an EKU alum, and have lived in Louisville for 30 years.