published Sunday, April 8th, 2012

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond seeks mandatory retirement at 60 for sworn force

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Should officers be required to retire at age 60?

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond wants a retirement program with mandatory retirement at age 60 for sworn officers and higher payouts until those officers are eligible for Social Security benefits.

Though the program would add an upfront cost for the sheriff's department of $250,000 to $400,000, long-term savings would make it an overall good move for the county, Hammond said.

"Higher-salaried people retire," Hammond said. "It takes several years for that savings to kick in."

Other state law enforcement agencies, including the Tennessee Highway Patrol, have gone to a program approved by the Tennessee General Assembly that requires early retirement for commissioned officers. Hamilton County should follow its lead, Hammond said, because officers have a harder time keeping up after age 60.

"You can stay out there until you hobble off," Hammond said, and this program would allow officers to "step down with a little more dignity."

Hammond said he has nine commissioned officers who are 60 or older. The sheriff is 69, but he said the provision wouldn't apply to critical personnel or elected officials such as himself.

Only one of his administrators, Chief Deputy Allen Branum, is a commissioned officer. Hammond said he could grant a waiver from the program for top officials like Branum.

The program wouldn't be an option for corrections or civilian personnel, he said.

This is the second year that Hammond has pitched the program ahead of the county budget process.

Hamilton County Commission Chairman Larry Henry, who presides over the commission's budget approval process, said he eventually wants the county to shift to the program.

But last year's budget required about $13 million in cuts, and County Mayor Jim Coppinger predicts this will be another tight year.

"I'm all for it, but I don't know if this is the year we're going to be able to do it or not," Henry said. "In time it will save the county a lot of money."

Henry said he has referred the request to the commission's Finance Committee.

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about Ansley Haman...

Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...

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