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Commissioners vote to increase own retirement benefits

Soon after Washington County Commissioners voted to pass the county budget with no extra money for the school system at their Aug. 23 meeting, they also approved a $12 per month increase in benefits for retired commissioners.
According to county officials, the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System offers an option to raise retirement benefits effective July 1, 2011. A retired commissioner will now receive another $144 dollars per year for every year served on the commission. For a two-term retired commissioner, that’s a more than $1,100 increase per year in benefits.
The county’s budget director, Bobbye Webb, said the state told her the financial impact to the county of upping the retirement benefits would be a small amount — so small, there aren’t any figures floating around about how much it will cost.
Commissioner Jim Powell, who has served five terms on the commission under his belt and did not seek re-election, moved to increase the benefits at the very end of the commission meeting, when most spectators had left.
Of the 11 commissioners leaving the commission, most have served at least two terms, with some having served four, five, and six terms.
Eight of those 11 commissioners, and five incumbents, voted to increase the benefits.
Commissioners C.B. Kinch, Richard Matherly, Frank Bolus, Bill Biles, Ron England, Greg Matherly, Kyle Shell, Mark Larkey, Ben Bowman, Everett Jarrett, Danny Edens and Sid Campbell also voted to approve the increase.
In addition to the retirement benefits, county commissioners can also opt into life insurance, health insurance and a monthly salary courtesy of the county.
However, incoming Commissioner Joe Sheffield said his platform is to get rid of the benefits after seeing how much it costs the county.
“I dug into it pretty good,” he said. “I’m not a big old educated boy but I like to look at that stuff.”
Sheffield said a commissioner pays $142 per month for a family coverage insurance plan through the county — and the county foots $16,000 per year per commissioner on its end.
“There are kids out there who got a home they’re trying to buy and they don’t make $16,000 a year, and they’re paying taxes,” he said. “It’s just not right.”
He said he’s heard of a county school cafeteria employee whose schedule is kept at 28 hours a week so she won’t hit the 30 hours per week mark that qualifies her for county insurance.
“She needs it more than retired commissioners,” he said. “I’m 72 mtself, and I know the [county’s coverage] is better, but I sure don’t want the county to pay for me.”
He said he’s sure there are 25 concerned citizens in Washington County who would serve on the commission for free.
“My wife had to go back to work to get insurance,” he said. “I just don’t think it’s the taxpayers’ responsibility.”
Jean Hughes, Benefits Coordinator for the county, said she can’t give out names of which of the commissioners have opted into county health insurance.