COLUMBUS - Legislation passed by the county this week will give local law enforcement a new retirement option. The Cherokee County Board of Commissioners were unanimous in Monday's morning's decision to approve the transition from the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System (KPERS) to Kansas Police and Fire Retirement (KP&F). The new plan will cost taxpayers more, but Sheriff David Groves and the commissioners were in agreement that the new plan is a monumental step forward for Cherokee County's public servants.

"This is a milestone," Chairman of the Board Pat Collins said. "I'm honored that I'm here to vote on this."

Discussed heavily during the recent 2018 budget hearing, resolution 14-2017 officially allows the transfer from KPERS to KP&F. Chairman Collins described the new retirement plan as a "giant step forward" for local officers. The new plan will cost an extra $74,000 per year, and will take effect January 2018.

"Transitioning increases both the county contribution and employee contribution, but we believe in the long run, it will be beneficial to both," Sheriff Groves said.

Sheriff Groves listed the instability of KPERS as one of the factors that led to them looking into KP&F.

"Over recent years, during financial difficulties at the state level, money from KPERS has been transferred to meet other needs," Sheriff Groves said. "Despite having deadlines to repay those funds, due to continued financial troubles, those deadlines were missed and repayments have been delayed. KP&F is a more secured fund and not subject to those transfers."

According to the sheriff, under KP&F there are a number of additional benefits for both the employee and the county. He cited that under KPERS, an employee is eligible for retirement after reaching 85 points (age plus years of service). An employee who is transferred to KP&F, however, is eligible once they reach 50 years of age with 25 years of service.

"This will potentially result in law enforcement officers retiring in their 50’s as opposed to their 60’s, when they are more susceptible to injury and extensive medical issues, which naturally come with age," Sheriff Groves said. "Thinking long range, this should save the county a significant amount of money in employee benefit costs."

The sheriff mentioned another problem that law enforcement agencies across the county have felt, that he feels the new plan could greatly help with:

"Cherokee County has long been a training ground for law enforcement. We hire them, train them, equip them, invest in them and because they are able to obtain basically the same job in nearby communities, which pay higher and have KP&F Retirement, we lose them and start all over. There are dollar costs associated with hiring, training and equipping officers, but there is also value in having officers who serve our community for long periods of time. Again, thinking long-term, I believe offering this retirement system is one component to not only help retain our current officers, but attract more qualified applicants when we do have openings, because law enforcement officers know the value of KP&F. They know that KP&F provides 80 percent of their final salary if they are disabled in the line of duty as opposed to 60 percent under KPERS. They also know that, God forbid, they lose their life protecting our community; their spouse will receive 50 percent of their annual salary for the rest of their life, rather than a onetime payout under KPERS."