2017-09-20 / News

Plan to raise retirement age for state police looks to be dead in the water

By SAM ADAMS

A proposal to raise the retirement age for Kentucky State Police and change the existing pension plan into a 401k may be dead before it ever reaches the General Assembly.

The proposal was released August 28 by PFM Consulting Group, which was hired by Gov. Matt Bevin to study the state’s underfunded pension plan and recommend changes. The recommendations cover state and county employees, school employees and hazardous duty employees such as KSP troopers.

In addition to the other recommendations, PFM suggested the state take back cost of living increases given to retirees between 1996 and 2012, a move opponents say that could cause benefit cuts of up to 25 percent for some employees.

But one of the most controversial proposals for state police is raising the retirement age to 60. Troopers now can retire after 25 years of service.

92nd District State Rep. John Blanton of Salyersville, retired from the Kentucky State Police five years ago as a major in the Administration Branch at KSP Headquarters. He said the proposal to require troopers to work until 60 is “simply not a viable option.”

Barry Engle of Payne Gap, who retired from the KSP as a sergeant four years ago and still works as a deputy sheriff, was more blunt.

“ You come in as a trooper when you’re 22 and they make you stay till you’re 60?” Engle scoffed. “With the lousy schedule, the lousy hours, the lousy food you eat, most troopers aren’t going to live till then.”

Troopers are already filing paperwork to retire in an attempt to lock in their retirement, something Blanton discouraged them from doing. Engle said on a visit to the Supply Branch two weeks ago, he was told people who work there had never seen so many people retiring at one time.

A detective, who asked not to be identified, said he knows of at least two detectives in Drug Enforcement and Special Investigations who have retired, and others who considered it and changed their minds.

Blanton also said he knows for certain that troopers have retired, but could not say how many. Kentucky State Police is authorized to have 1,050 sworn personnel, but currently has about 853, Blanton said. He said there are 124 “who could retire today.”

“ We’re approaching levels we haven’t seen in years,” he said.

Blanton encouraged KSP employees, and other state employees, not to retire until the legislature has time to act. He said the legislation that comes out of the General Assembly will not be the same as the recommendations.

“Any proposal of that nature will not survive the legislative process,” Blanton said.

“My advice to anyone I talk to in any of the retirement systems, is do not retire out of fear,” he said.

But the proposal have caused many to be afraid for their financial future, and their ability to provide for their families.

Engle said most troopers don’t join the KSP because of the money, they join because it is “a higher calling.” But, he said, they join with the knowledge that when they retire, they’ll be able to take care of themselves and their families.

The proposal would cap overtime that can be used in the salary calculation, and do away with adding sick time to the end of a trooper’s service. Engle, who retired at 48 with 25 years of service, actually worked 23 years, but had two years of sick leave accrued. He said he didn’t hoard days, but the Kentucky State Police gives compensatory time off (Ctime) instead of overtime. There were so many hours worked, that there is always C-time to be used. When a trooper reaches 400 hours of unused vacation time, it turns into sick time, which is also not used because of C-time.

“I never used a sick day, never used a vacation day, because I was always taking C-time,” Engle said.

He said if he were a young person contemplating the state police today, he would not join right now because of the uncertainty over what will happen.

Letcher County Sheriff Danny Webb, also a retired trooper, said he doesn’t think the proposals will become law.

“If they did that, you talk about a one-term governor,” Webb said.

Webb said he expects a tax increase to cover the retirement system shortfalls instead of cutting out benefits for state employees.

He also predicted that if people do begin to retire, they will be in “the upper echelons,” not road troopers.

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