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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Sims, Journal staff

Sheriff's staff asks commission to step up to better disability, retirement plan

By Charlene Sims, info@linncountyjournal.com


MOUND CITY – The Linn County Commission on Monday, Feb. 26, unanimously voted to order a study of what the cost would be go back into the employment history of full-time deputies and firefighters to upgrade their retirement and disability insurance package.


Until now, those staff members have been on the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System (KPERS), but a push was made on Monday to upgrade that plan to the benefits provided by the Kansas Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (KP&F).


Linn County Undersheriff Bobby Johnson, KPERS representative Paige Ashley, and Sheriff Kevin Friend made the pitch to the commission.


The study will cost the county $800 plus $25 for each employee that the county is considering changing to KP&F. According to Ashley, only full-time firefighters and law enforcement personnel who have attended the law enforcement training academy and work patrolling the county are eligible.. 


The commissioners are doing the study to determine what the cost will be if the county does allow those employees to switch to the KP&F retirement system and whether the county will pay the difference for prior service under KPERS or whether they will take the future-only course. 


Undersheriff Johnson explained to the commissioners that many of the deputies that he is hiring now under the current KPERS 3 system would have to wait until age 67 to get full retirement pay. The KP&F system would allow them to retire at age 55 with full retirement benefits.


Undersheriff Johnson told the commissioners that because of the illnesses, including respiratory and heart disease brought on by the stress of the job, traffic accidents, and physical attacks on the job, the average life span for police officers is 66 years compared to the national average of 78 years for people who are not in law enforcement.


Undersheriff Johnson said that there were several reasons to switch law enforcement officers from KPERS to KP&F, the main ones being recruitment and retention of officers. He said that compared to local sam- size counties, Linn County employees were some of the worst paid. Because of that it was difficult retain officers, but having the benefit like KP&F to offer would help.


He said he did have five officers working for him that live in Fort Scott. The only reason they have come to Linn County is because the pay is slightly better than the Fort Scott police department but neither department has the KP&F retirement system. The Bourbon County Sheriff’s Office is not a competitor because it has lower pay rates and it does not have KP&F.


Another reason that Undersheriff Johnson thinks that the county should put the deputies on the KP&F system is that in the law enforcement occupation, people cannot be doing the same quality work at age 65 as they do at 40 or 30.


He said that a person’s physical stamina, physical and cognitive capabilities decreased with age, and it is a public safety issue to have older officers. That’s why even the federal law enforcement officers have to be retired at age 57.


Other reasons for switching to KP&F include:

• It would mitigate the cost of increased insurance rates for older officers.

• It has a better service connected disability for law enforcement officers, KPERS disability is only for two years but KP&F disability can be for life. 

• The death benefit is better with KP&F if the officer is killed in the line of service. It continues to pay the spouse for the rest of his or her life and the children also.


Undersheriff Johnson told the commissioners that the department had recently lost an officer to a state agency with better pay and KP&F retirement. That officer, he said, came from a multi-generational Linn County family.


He said that currently there is another officer that’s in the background process of applying for a state agency for the same reasons. 


“And I assure there are like three of us who have been contacted by another state agency because they are building a new place in Pittsburg,” said Johnson. 


KPERS representative Ashley explained that, under the KPERS umbrella, there are three different retirement systems – regular KPERS, KP&F and the judges system.


She said that KP&F was designed to meet the needs of law enforcement because of the nature of their work. They are exposed to risks and dangers that others are not. They are also subject to physical injuries due to the weight of the their equipment, disease exposure and emotional trauma of events.


She explained that KP&F was a little more expensive than regular KPERS. The cost for regular KPERS for the employee is 6% of their salary and 10.6% for their employer. For KP&F, the employee’s share is 7.15% and their employer pays 24.6%.


To affiliate with the program, the county commissioner has to vote to become part of the KP&F program, Ashley said. That affiliation would not start until Jan. 1, 2025.  


Ashley told the commissioners it was a much better program for law enforcement because of the lifetime disability and comprehensive death benefits if the person is killed in the line of duty. She said that it took five years to be vested in KPERS but 15 years to be vested in KP&F.


Ashley explained that she used to have two or three agencies a year change to this system for their law enforcement, but last year 13 agencies, including some in southeast Kansas, decided to change to the KP&F system. 


Ashley said that the county could go back and cover prior service under this system or move toward with the future only.


“We serve this community  every day, every night, every weekend, every holiday, every thunderstorm and ice storm, said Undersheriff Johnson at the end of his presentation. “And every bad thing that happens, these guys go to it. I ask that you really consider this and show the guys and gals that you support them because they will always support the community here. Thank you.”


Commissioner Danny McCullough said that he would like to move forward and make this happen. 


“What this affects is the future of law enforcement in Linn County and how the Linn County Sheriff in the years in the future will staff the office,” said Sheriff Kevin Friend. “I’ve been explaining it to you guys for some time now through correspondence.


“We don’t get applicant for law enforcement officers any more. It doesn’t happen. the last time we had somebody put in for a law enforcement position, that individual did not catch the information that we were not already under KP&F.


“When he sat down with us, he said, ‘I’ve wasted your time and my time’ because he wasn’t coming here. He was with an agency where he had already put in 15 years under KP&F and wanted to continue under that system.”


Friend continued, “If you look at Linn County compensation versus those that we compete with, those who have stolen our deputies, right because that is what happens, they’re poaching. Those who steal our deputies, those are the comparisons we give you.


“We no longer compete with Bourbon County, necessarily. I haven’s lost a deputy. I’ve lost jailers to Bourbon County, but I won’t lose a deputy there because their pay is so low and they are KPERS. I’ve lost to Ft. Scott, which has lower pay but they have KP&F.


“Because I’ve lost to them because their retirement benefit is much more lucrative. We have a KP&F agency in Linn County. If they have an opening, I will lose to them because they are higher paid and they have KP&F.


Friend said that, at best, the current  KPERS 3 system is an annuity and is a horrible system. He said he had guys who were going to have to work 40 years in that system to retire.


“Our staff could do better putting the money in some other account and managing their own retirement,” Friend said. “I can promise you that.


“Why can I promise you that? Because in 2019 I came back to Linn County. I’m on KPERS 3. It’s horrible! I take more money out of my paycheck and put it in a (457b deferred compensation plan) and make more than I do out of KPERS,” said Friend.

                                                                                                                          

He said he could nearly guarantee that the 21 Linn County law enforcement officers not at the commissioner meeting were watching and the commissioners’ decision would determine what those folks are going to do for a career.


Friend recommended that the commission spend a couple of thousand dollars on the study. He said that was not a lot of money for the future.  

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