Monday, August 12, 2013

KCSO retirement plan set for vote

A little more than nine months after voters opted to close the Knox County Sheriff's Office pension plan, officials are set to implement a newly crafted retirement program - one that still maintains attractive benefits for law enforcement personnel, but won't cost taxpayers quite as much.

If approved, the Sheriff's Total Asset Accumulation Retirement plan, or STAR, would affect law enforcement and corrections officers hired after next Jan. 1. Current officers would keep their traditional pensions.

The Knox County Commission will talk more about the proposal during its work session next Monday and vote on it later this month.

"Law enforcement is a young man's game," said Commissioner Ed Shouse, a pension board member, who served on the committee that drafted the plan. "Do you want a 60-year-old man chasing down a burglar or a couple of 26-year-old guys? The cost is almost the same, but this plan encourages people to come into (the Sheriff's Office) and work 25 years and hopefully be able to take an early retirement in their mid 50s. "

STAR, a defined contributions plan, replaces the Uniformed Officers Pension Plan, or UOPP, a defined benefit plan that gives those with 30 years of service a pension at 75 percent of their two highest years' salary, plus a yearly 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment.

Voters initially approved the UOPP in 2006 after proponents said it would benefit the lower-paid deputies and jailers who could not afford to retire under the general county plan, which works like a 401(k).

The pension program, though, was costly and critics argued that it included employees not actively fighting crime. The stock market, too, was unkind and the plan's annual contribution costs jumped. This year, the county will put in $8.5 million, three times what was first projected, although $4 million of that will cover the bonds issued to fund the plan at its inception.

Officials, led by Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, brought the pension plan before residents last year, and voters by a 3-to-1 margin agreed to close it and directed the county pension board to create a new one.

"The (pension) wasn't going to be financially feasible," the mayor said."But I think (the STAR plan) is going to be great for our law enforcement. It addresses their future needs and it's also responsible to the taxpayers. And that's what we wanted - something equitable for everybody."

The new plan requires employees to contribute 6 percent of pay and the county puts in 10 percent. In addition, the county puts another 2 percent into a medical reimbursement plan to offset medical premiums and costs for the retirees from the time they leave the job until they're eligible for Medicare.

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