Utah's Public Safety Retirement System's liberal enrollment policies cost the state $125,000 more annually than if the system used the same enrollment criteria as surrounding states, according to an audit prepared by the legislative auditor general.

What's more, the audit says, the state could save about $56,000 annually simply by correctly applying Utah's own criteria and reclassifying those employees who do not qualify. According to the audit, 75 public safety employees in 39 positions who are now enrolled in the Public Safety Retirement Plan are actually ineligible."We found that Utah's Public Safety Retirement System has liberal enrollment criteria and that many covered positions fail to meet existing eligibility requirements," said the audit. "When compared to 10 other Western states, Utah enrolls three times as many positions in its (Public Safety Retirement) plan."

The audit, managed by John M. Schaff and supervised by Bruce L. Allen, also says that public safety personnel are understandably resistant to any reclassification efforts that would move them into the Public Employees Retirement System because Public Safety has better death benefits and substantially lower service requirements.

Thus, agency managers are sometimes hard pressed to meet staffing requirements when it requires moving employees into the state retirement system. Auditors suggest that consideration be given to reducing the large disparity between service retirement requirements in Public Safety system and those requirements for employees combining Public Safety credit with state retirement credit.

Public Safety Commissioner John T. Nielsen said he wholeheartedly endorses many portions of the report, although he expressed some concerns. He urged careful consideration of any proposal that would hamper the department's ability to use employees in management positions.

He said law enforcement personnel hire on with the expectation that they will be in the Public Safety system, regardless of their assignments.

"Their career in law enforcement, whether that be in the field or in a supervisory position, should not be jeopardized by the specter of losing the benefits of that system if they choose assignments and pursue advancement which would take them out of direct field operations," Nielsen said in a letter responding to the audit.