Balancing Risk & Retirement: Knox Co. Deputies' Pension Push

Knoxville (WVLT) - Knox County Sheriff's Officers claim it's about fairness, buying the same-type retirement security offered Knoxville Police. But Volunteer TV's Gordon Boyd found out some county leaders have doubts about paying for it.

Essentially, the plan would reverse the trend we're seeing in the private sector, which is moving away from pensions and more toward portable retirement accounts.

It'd allow a sheriff's officer with 30 years experience to retire at 65 with 3/4 of his or her pay, but how, without raising taxes?

"Not many people out there have a job that's dangerous like ours," Todd Sleet likes where he sits after 11 years as a Knox County Sheriff's patrolman, but not where his balance sheet stands. "If I decide to retire at 25 or 30 years, under my current plan, the money could run out on me."

It amounts to a 401(k) each year a sheriff's officer kicks in 6% of his or her pay. Knox County matches it dollar for dollar.

"Are the benefits that the current sheriff's department employees have right now, are they comparable to what you have?" says Dwight vam de Vate, from the Knox County Mayor's Office.

"We put our life on the line, I don't think it's too much to ask that we be able to retire comfortably," Sleet says.

If voters approve it, comfortable, would almost double Knox County's matching share.

"You have to include the eligibility of people already on the payroll, and all their years of past service," says van de Vate.

Knox County figures that at 772 eligible officers and $57 million upfront.

"And somebody has to pay those dollars," van de Vate says.

As in, the Knox County taxpayer.

Assuming the pension change cost $8 million a year, it'd take roughly 8 cents of your current tax rate. Assuming your home valued at $100,000, that's about 20 bucks.

"Does it take a tax increase? We think it can be done without one?" says Stan McCroskey, from the Fraternal Order of Police.

"Without cutting other services?" asks Boyd.

"Without cutting other services," he replies.

The Fraternal Order of Police sees the money coming from rising property tax revenues, the rainy day fund, and cuts of non-essential services, but it hasn't offered specifics.

"The reality is the money is gonna have to come from somewhere," van de Vate reiterates.

Todd Sleet's reality, if it doesn't pass?

A lot more time in the saddle.

"I probably won't be able to retire until I'm 68-years-old," Todd says.

Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale says raising taxes is out of the question.

Yet another complication, the ballot question is a charter change.

And Tennessee's Supreme Court still hasn't ruled on whether the charter change is legal.

The fop is making its case through ads.

For now, Knox County leaders say their message is simply, make sure you know exactly how you might be committing your tax money, before you vote.