The Henderson County Commissioners Court on Tuesday shortened the years of service required to enter the county retirement plan from 30 to 20 years.

The county participates in the Texas County and District System plan.

County Treasurer Karin Smith said the change will be beneficial to both the employees and the county.

“I think its a win-win situation,” Smith said. “It gives an option to the employees to retire and take their benefits early.”

Smith said Pct. 2 Commissioner Wade McKinney had played a big part in investigating the new plan.

Smith told commissioners there are seven employees who will become eligible for 20-year retirement in 2009. She said if only one of those workers opted to retire the county would save enough in future employee benefits to cover the additional $15,000 the county will have to pay for the new plan.

“If someone retires earlier than they would have,” Smith said, “there’s less of a match for the county to pay.”

Each employee pays seven percent annually into the system. The county then adds a little more than twice that percentage into the fund. In addition, a 20-year employee is paid about $5,000 annually in longevity pay.

Smith said if three of the seven newly eligible employees chose to retire, the county would save $15,000 in longevity pay alone, which would cover the increased cost to the county to include the 20-year retirement option.

The new plan will also benefit those who have already retired by adding 50 percent of the Consumer Price Index Cost of Living Adjustment. The CPI-based COLA option allows the plan to authorize a one-time increase in pension benefits for eligible retirees and beneficiaries.

“Those who’ve been retired the longest will see the biggest increase,” Smith said.

McKinney said some of the longtime retirees need an adjustment to increase their buying power in today’s economy.

“Prior to six years ago, the county had never given retirees a raise,” McKinney said. “What this court has done in the past few years is rectify some of that.”

In other action, commissioners:

• approved the purchase and installation of a new electric panel for the renovated dispatch area in the Henderson County Jail at a cost of $5,350.95;

• authorized Purchasing Director Sherrie Carmichael to pursue the best deal for an examination table and two medication carts for the jail;

• authorized payment of bills in the amount of $303,448.57.

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