New sheriff proposes retirement-plan change

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Chestnut believes no Perry County deputy has ever retired

By KEVIN KOELLING, Managing Editor

TELL CITY – In his fourth day on the job, Sheriff Lee Chestnut appeared before the county council to provide information on a proposed retirement plan for deputies.

Figures on a handout he distributed showed expenses would be close to $70,000 to switch deputies to a Perry County-specific plan from the state’s Public Employees Retirement Fund, but the PERF costs now paid by the county hadn’t been separated out, meaning the true cost would be in the $35,000 range, he said.

“I know how much the county is strapped,” Chestnut said, “and I don’t think thirty-some-thousand (dollars) is out of the realm of possibilities.

He had been working with Elaine Beaty of the actuarial firm McCready and Keene Inc. of Indianapolis, who was unable to attend the council meeting. Chestnut hopes she’ll be at a Jan. 27 meeting.

She told the News Friday state law permits counties to develop their own plans for county officers, and the plan could be dubbed the Perry County Police Retirement Plan. The law defines minimum benefits, and both Beaty and Chestnut said he’s not seeking a “Cadillac” level of benefits.

The sheriff provided a record of money flowing into county coffers from the state Department of Correction in recent years, which could help pay for the plan.

“It fluctuates from year to year,” he said before explaining the process for receiving the funding. A judge who sentences someone to prison provides documentation, and the sheriff’s office notifies the prison, which then lets them know when they’re ready to accept the prisoner. With offenders being fed into the system from 92 counties, the state prison agency needs to schedule their arrivals. Counties foot the bills for the first five days they hold the offenders, and the state pays $35 per day per prisoner for subsequent time.

“We had one the other day they said they were ready for,” Chestnut told the council, “and instead of us transporting one female up, I said … I know another one is getting ready to be sentenced, can we hold off on her?” A state official agreed, he continued, “so she’s getting sentenced the 12th, and we don’t have to take them up until the 21st.”

The state money now goes into the county’s general fund, Chestnut said. He also reminded council members a video-conferencing system installed recently is saving the costs of fuel and part-time officers.

He and Deputy Daymion Marsh were at the Branchville prison earlier in the day “looking at ways to improve the jail at no or hardly any expense to taxpayers,” he said, and he’s looking at tapping commissary funds paid by prisoners.

“What I’m saying is I work as hard as possible to save money to put back into the county,” he said, adding that of an $89 or $102 fee charged for “paper service,” $13 is supposed to go into retirement funding.

If the total cost would truly be in the $70,000 range, “I wouldn’t be here,” Chestnut said, “but mid-30s, I’m going to stand up and fight for. We are the last six deputies in the entire state that are not under (the plan). And we may be the last six officers, because I think all the cities and municipalities are under this retirement.” He clarified moments later that only five of the six deputies authorized are employed now, because the position he just left hasn’t been filled.

Under PERF, “your age and years of service have to equal 85, he explained.

“Do you want to be 61 years old when you’re going to a domestic (disturbance) where you have to fight a 25-year-old guy? That’s what we’re asking. Basically, none of us are going to be able to retire until we’re 62.”

Chestnut confirmed an observation made by Councilman Steve Goodson.

“To my knowledge, there has never been a Perry County deputy sheriff that’s retired,” Chestnut said. “They either passed on or had to retire due to disabilities from the job or basically move on to another agency that has this retirement.”

“This would be an incentive to retain officers?” Councilman Chet Mathena asked. “Very much so,” the sheriff responded.

Deputy Richard Myers was in the audience.

Deputies often transfer to the Tell City Police Department, some for better pay, he said, “but it was basically the retirement.”

Chestnut intended to seek the council’s approval of the retirement-plan change at their Jan. 27 meeting, and Goodson, Mathena and Councilman Stan Goffinet agreed to look into his proposal in the meantime.

In other business, Alan Cassidy was elected council president and Mathena was named vice president. The council agreed to continue meeting at 4:30 p.m. the fourth Thursday of each month, but at Councilman Ron Crawford’s request bumped the March meeting to March 31.

Meetings in November and December will be shifted due to holidays.