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(Jefferson City) (AP) – Missouri’s public employee retirement plans generally are in better financial shape than those nationwide, though there is cause for concern about some, according to a state audit released Tuesday.

Auditor Tom Schweich’s report examined 89 public pension systems that are set up to pay defined benefits to 546,000 people who worked for state or local governmental entities. It found a wide discrepancy in the systems’ financial health, with some in “very good financial condition” and others in a “very poor financial condition.”

“Our pensions, by and large, are better managed than those nationwide,” Schweich said. “They have fewer problems, but there are still definitely some land mines out there, as far as future pension benefits go.”

Schweich placed 15 pension plans on an auditor’s “watch list” because of their finances, including those for the state transportation department and Highway Patrol employees and retirement plans for some public employees in Columbia, Joplin, Kansas City, Springfield and St. Louis County. They could be subject to additional, in-depth audits, he said.

Statewide, Missouri’s pension plans had combined actuarial assets of $57 billion and accrued liabilities of $73 billion at the end of 2012, resulting in an unfunded liability of $16 billion, the audit said. The plans were funded at 78 percent of the present value of their future retirement payments – down from 83 percent in 2003 but several percentage points better than nationwide figures.

Unfunded liabilities grew in pension plans across the nation during the recession because investment losses and budget shortfalls made it difficult for governments to fully fund the plans. The audit noted several pension officials said their investment returns were much stronger in 2013 and 2014, thus improving the financial health of the plans after the timeframe covered by the audit.

Missouri’s largest public pension plan is the Public School Retirement System, which covers more than 140,000 people. It had $29 billion of assets, amounting to a funded ratio of 82 percent of its liabilities in 2012.

Schweich said a funded ratio of 80 percent or better is an indication a pension plan is “relatively healthy.”

Smaller plans had greater discrepancies, ranging from a low of 10 percent for the Cedar Hill Fire Protection District in Jefferson County, which covers 31 members, to a high of 164 percent for the Maplewood Police and Fire Retirement Fund, which covers 24 people.

Each year, actuaries determine how much money should put into retirement funds to ensure their long-term financial health. But those recommendations are not always followed by the governmental entities.

Nationwide, public pension plans received 80 percent of the recommended contributions in 2012. Missouri fared better with a 94 percent contribution rate, driven primarily by large plans that met or exceeded their targets. But the audit said 34 of Missouri’s pension plans didn’t get the full recommended contribution.

“This statistic is concerning, as it indicates sponsoring governments of some plans may not be committed to achieving plans’ overall funding goals,” the audit said.

Another financial indicator Schweich examined is the percentage of payroll costs devoted to pension plans. That figure rose over the past decade in Missouri, as it did nationally, but remained slightly below the national norm, he said.

(Willard) (AP) – The Greene County Sheriff’s Office says the death of a woman and her estranged husband was a murder-suicide.

Sheriff Jim Arnott said in a news release that deputies found 48-year-old Sandra Pendergrass lying dead on a road in Willard Monday evening. She had suffered severe head trauma and a gunshot wound.

During the investigation of her death, the body of 48-year-old Todd Pendergrass was found in Dade County near Everton. Arnott says Pendergrass shot himself.

Arnott says that before he killed himself, Todd Pendergrass confessed to his daughter and brother that he had killed his wife.

The Springfield News-Leader reports this is at least the fourth time since April that a Springfield area-woman died in what authorities called murder caused by domestic violence.

(Jefferson City) (AP) – A California contractor has been fined thousands of dollars and was banned from doing business in Missouri after scamming two people whose homes were destroyed by the 2011 tornado in Joplin.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster announced in a news release Tuesday a consent judgment against Clark Baxter, of Sustainable Design, Inc. Koster says Baxter’s company contracted to rebuild two homes in Joplin after the tornado but he did not deliver construction materials and stopped work before it was completed. Koster says Baxter spent the homeowners’ money on personal expenses, including a trip to Hawaii.

The order requires Baxter to pay $26,000 in restitution and fines. Some of the money will go to two charities that finished work on the two homes using their own funds and hundreds of volunteers.

(West Plains) – The West Plains Public Library will be closing at 4 PM on Wednesday, October 1 for maintenance.

Officials say that the library will open again on Thursday, October 2 at 9 AM.

The Ozarks Food Harvest Mobile Food Pantry prequalification on Wednesday will still be held from 4-5:45 PM in the library’s Community Room. People who want to attend should enter on the Cass Ave. side of the library.

(Pocahontas) (AP) – Pocahontas police have arrested a man who they say was growing nearly 40 marijuana plants in a home he was renting.

Police Chief Cecil Tackett told KAIT-TV on Monday that it’s “by far” the largest growing operation officers have discovered. He said the 37 plants ranged from seedlings to 5 feet tall.

Police were called to the residence for a welfare check after the homeowner said the 37-year-old tenant hadn’t paid rent in months. Officers say they could see and smell marijuana plants and obtained a search warrant.

Tackett says the man was arrested a few days later.

The man faces drug manufacturing and drug paraphernalia charges. Both are felonies.

(Jefferson City) (AP) – Missouri community colleges are getting $19.7 million from the federal government to train more students and collect data about them.

The Missouri funding was included in $450 million of job-training grants announced Monday by the White House and federal education and labor departments.

A little less than $15 million will be used to hire instructors and purchase equipment to teach an additional 1,900 students in science, technology, engineering and math fields. About $4.7 million will be used to collect data on Missouri community college students who are enrolled short-term certificate programs, similar to data already collected on students in courses that award credit hours.

The federal grants are similar to ones received by Missouri 2011 and 2012. That $35 million went toward community colleges programs in health and manufacturing.

(Little Rock) (AP) – A man accused of abducting and killing a real estate agent in rural Arkansas has pleaded not guilty to preliminary charges of kidnapping and capital murder.

Arron Michael Lewis appeared in court Tuesday. The office of Pulaski County District Judge Wayne Gruber said Lewis pleaded not guilty to one count each of capital murder, kidnapping and robbery, as well as four weapons charges.

The 33-year-old Lewis is being held on $1 million bail.

The body of Beverly Carter was found overnight in a shallow grave at a concrete company where, according to a newspaper report, Lewis formerly worked.

Carter had been missing since Thursday, when she told her husband she planned to show a home to a prospective buyer near Scott, near Little Rock.

(Provided by the Baxter County Sheriff's Office)

(Provided by the Baxter County Sheriff’s Office)

(West Plains) – Local law enforcement agencies are reporting great turnouts for the semi-annual Prescription Drug Take-Back event, which was held on Saturday, September 27.

The Baxter County Sheriff’s Office reported their largest collection event ever, with 1,231 pounds of unused, unwanted or expired prescription drugs turned in.

The Howell County Sheriff’s Office reported a slow day Saturday, however, officials say that between Saturday’s event and the last one held in May, a total of 140 pounds were dropped off by area residents.

The Thayer Police Department reported 115 pounds were dropped off during the Saturday collection.

The Houston Police Department reported collecting 243.5 pounds of medication on Saturday.

Numbers from the Wright County Sheriff’s Office and the Ozark County Sheriff’s Office, who also participated in the event, were not immediately available.

Drugs collected during the event will be turned into the DEA and incinerated.

Missouri Animal Control Association Board President Drew Hane, left, presenting the award to West Plains Animal Control Officer Brad Vannada. (Provided)

Missouri Animal Control Association Board President Drew Hane, left, presenting the award to West Plains Animal Control Officer Brad Vannada. (Provided)

(West Plains) – West Plains’ Animal Control Officer and department have been honored with the Missouri Outstanding Animal Welfare Agency Award.

Officer Brad Vannada and the West Plains Animal Control was selected by the Missouri Animal Control Association Board, and was presented the award during the recent conference last week in Lake of the Ozarks.

The criteria for the award is that the shelter improves the quality of life for companion animals; a shelter that exceeds industry standards—either by implementing new programs, increasing adoptions, establishing spay/neuter programs, or by establishing public outreach programs.

Vannada wanted to give thanks to the many people who support the shelters and rescues across the country that help save dogs from the West Plains area.

(West Plains) – City crews in West Plains have been busy in the Southern Hills area this past week and will be again this week, according to City Clerk Mallory Prewett:

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Street crews are busy widening a bridge on Monk Street. If you’re traveling on Monk Street, prepare to slow down and watch for crews.