Financial Management re-discusses retirement insurance after lack of details

The Financial Management Committee reopened conversations on proposed changes to health insurance eligibility for early retirees Monday after chairman Brad Johnson determined there were some details about the proposal that still needed clarification.

The board voted during their October meeting to create two insurance eligibility systems: either 20 years of service at 55 years of age or 25 years of service at 52 years of age.

Additional concerns warranting further conversation included concerns about how such a policy change would affect other departments.

Austin Jaynes asked if there was a way to set such a policy purely for Sheriff’s Office employees. Attorney Josh Hardin said he did not recommend such a course of action, saying he would err on the side of treating everyone equally.

“I would not recommend that we treat any employees different,” Hardin said. “I think any time you treat people differently, you are asking for trouble.”

Deputy Finance Director Michael Kennedy pointed out the Sheriff’s Department already has different policies compared to much of the county as it is.

“You reach certain ages in that profession, […] some of those duties as you get older are painful,” Johnson said. “They are a safety and a health risk.”

Ginger Holdren said her mother would have retired sooner if she had the insurance eligibility to do so.

Sheriff Dexter Lunceford later stood up and said he would fund the entire county’s insurance eligibility changes from his own department.

“I will give you my word, and I hope it means something, that as long as I am here, I will fund the insurance through federal board bill money or whatever funds, as long as I am Sheriff,” Lunceford said.

When asked if such a system would work long-term, Lunceford said it would be “political suicide” for the next sheriff to go back on this agreement.

As an example, he pointed to money obtained from state and federal inmates, which Lunceford said nets the county at least $900,000 annually. He said that started from a “gentleman’s agreement” with the previous sheriff, which he is perfectly willing to continue.

The committee voted unanimously to approve the motion, which would let the Sheriff’s Department fund the difference in insurance costs through their inmates’ income and whatever else they can come up with.

The board briefly discussed exempting elected and appointed officials but scratched the amendment out after a brief discussion about regular employees who later become elected officials.

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