KNOX COUNTY, TN – Knox County residents on Tuesday overwhelmingly voted to close out a multimillion-dollar retirement program for Sheriff’s Office uniformed personnel that won approval just six years ago.
Current employees will remain on the plan, but the Knox County Retirement and Pension Board and Knox County Commission must create and approve a new plan for deputies and jailers who are hired beginning in 2014.
“This wasn’t a vote against law enforcement but rather a vote in favor of fiscal responsibility,” said Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, who fought to close the plan.
“I want to say that there is no one more pro law enforcement than I am. And now we’re going to get with the pension board and come up with something we can put in place that’s fiscally responsible but still encouraging to law enforcement.”
Residents in November 2006 approved the Uniformed Officers Pension Plan, or UOPP, by just under 500 votes, after proponents said it would benefit mostly rank-and-file law enforcement officers. It gives those with 30 years of service a pension at 75 percent of their two highest years’ salary, plus a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment annually.
The plan has been costly and controversial.
Projections that residents would shut it down held true, despite efforts by the Fraternal Order of Police. Unofficial returns, without absentee ballots, show 103,526 people, or about 73.25 percent of the total tally, voted against it. Another 37,810 people, or 26.75 percent, voted for it.
“Now the next step is to make sure that the next plan is still beneficial to our officers,” said Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones. “We need this to help with recruitment and retention.”
The plan has come under fire because many officials feel it has grown to include workers not actively fighting crime, such as lawyers and bailiffs. Its cost, too, have grown. This year the county is expected to contribute $8.7 million — three times what was first projected — with a little less than half of that going to cover bonds issued to fund it at inception.
Voters on Tuesday also approved six other charter amendments, including one that defines what a term in office is and another that strikes language from the charter requiring the county clerk to annually write state and federal lawmakers “stating the people’s support of term limits at both the state and federal levels.”