Salaries, insurance and universities discussed during Financial Management meeting

Published 8:23 am Tuesday, October 8, 2019

County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford came to the Financial Management Committee meeting Monday morning to continue talks about county policy regarding insurance after retirement for county employees.

The current system is to allow retiring employees to keep their insurance if they retire at 55 years of age or with 30 years of service. Talks continued about lowering those requirements to 25 years of service at 52 years of age.

“In April of this year, the state reduced [the retirement] to 25 years of age,” Lunceford said. “The average age of employees with 25 years of age is 52.”

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Commissioner Austin Jaynes expressed concerns that the proposed new guidelines would convince more of the county’s older employees to retire, without younger employees to fill in the gaps.

“They have no reason not to jump ship once something better comes along,” Jaynes said. “Our old ones are vested here. Our new ones are not.”

Lunceford said, for his department, that would not be an issue, while County Schools Superintendent Kevin Ward said teacher supply depends on the subject at hand, the toughest to replace being Spanish and Speech.

Part of the conversation centered around the Sheriff’s Office, as the employees set to benefit from this new system cannot work in the field the way the younger deputies can.

“You get slower,” Commissioner Brad Johnson said. “It is like dead-weight.”

As a way to benefit the younger employees who have worked longer while also benefitting the older employees who may have worked for less, the committee agreed to use two insurance requirement systems: 20 years of service at 55 years of age and 25 years of service at 52 years of age. The motion passed unanimously and will go to full commission later this month.

County Mayor Russell Barnett, following the Buildings and Grounds Committee meeting last week, said he met with officials from Northeast State about their lease troubles. The community college’s umbrella organization, the Tennessee Board of Regents, will not pay for buildings it does not own, prompting discussions last week about how to keep the university in Elizabethton.

“We are going to start some roundtable meetings with them,” Barnett said.

He said Northeast’s current lease goes through 2021, which gives both the college and the county time to figure out what can be done.

Ward gave a report on the school board’s efforts to bring every school employee to a minimum of $10 an hour.

“To get our Food Service full-time employees up to the $10 minimum, it is going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of about 60 cents,” Ward said.

He said he reached out to Washington County Schools, who told Ward they tackled the bulk of their salary questions during the budget process, a suggestion with which the committee agreed.