In the past 18 months, the Nashville Police Department has lost four of its six full-time officers to departments with better pay and benefits.

Last year, the town council took a step toward changing that, moving the police department from a town marshal structure to a metropolitan police department structure.

Among the changes that brought was the ability to enter the 1977 Police Officers’ and Firefighters’ Pension and Disability Fund under the Indiana Public Employee Retirement System. It pays retirement benefits at a greater rate than the general INPRS fund, which officers and other town employees are in now.

But before officers can get those greater benefits, the town council has some decisions to make.

It can choose to “buy back” years of service for the two officers with more than a year on the job, picking up only the employer contribution part or the entire bill, including the balance of what officers would have paid into that fund during all those years.

Or it can choose to start fresh in the new fund, setting all officers’ years of service at zero and owing no upfront lump-sum payment.

The two Nashville officers who’ve served more than a year — Chief Ben Seastrom and Assistant Chief Tim True — have asked the town to consider picking up both the employer and employee contributions from their past years, so they get full credit for them toward retirement in the new fund.

The entire amount of the buy-in, including the officers’ share, is $83,731.

The council isn’t sure yet if that will be possible financially, or if it’s a good precedent to be setting.

They asked Seastrom to call in an expert from the 1977 fund to talk about what the long-term financial commitment would be to enter into this fund at all.

Meanwhile, the Nashville Metropolitan Police Commission — which oversees officers’ hiring and discipline — met today to talk fundraising ideas to help the officers make their buy-back payment, if the town would decide to pick up the employer’s share.

Starting a GoFundMe page was one idea.

“We really need to take care of these gentlemen,” said commission member Ken Wendling. “They’ve taken care of this community for years.”

Money details

True has worked six years as a Nashville Police officer and Seastrom for 10-and-a-half.

During that time, the officers and the town were paying into the regular INPRS benefit system, but at a lower rate than the 1977 fund charges.

Now, the town pays 14.2 percent of the officers’ base salary toward retirement — including a 3-percent employee match — and the officers pay 3 percent; under the 1977 fund, those percentages jump to 17.5 for employer and 6 percent for employee, fund documents say.

To get full credit for his years of service, True would need to pay $6,431 and Seastrom $13,352 when the town enrolls in the 1977 fund, Seastrom told the council.

That’s the difference of what they would have paid into the program if the town would have been using it all those years, versus what they did pay into the general INPRS program.

To find $13,000, Seastrom said he’d have to refinance his house. True doesn’t have that kind of cash either, Seastrom said.

The difference between what the town paid toward officers’ retirement and what it would have paid into the 1977 fund is $63,948. That’s what the town, as the employer, would owe upon enrollment if it decides to buy back officers’ years.

If the town decides not to, or if Seastrom and True can’t put in their share, Seastrom will still draw benefits from that old fund, but at a lower rate than if those years were transferred to the new fund. Seastrom didn’t provide specific figures, but said it’s a “huge difference.”

True’s investment in the old plan would be greatly reduced or lost, because he’s not fully vested in it yet, he said.

If the town decides to start fresh in the 1977 plan, True, 32, and Seastrom, 40, would have to work 20 years from the date of enrollment to draw full retirement benefits from it, Seastrom said.

“I don’t have another 20 years in me to start over fresh,” Seastrom said.

Finding funds

What the town could do to come up with its portion — and maybe True’s and Seastrom’s, too — is to refinance the loan on the Nashville Police station, said town council President “Buzz” King.

Some council members had objections to that idea.

David Rudd said refinancing and extending the police station loan for this purpose would be “ridiculous.”

Arthur Omberg — a former Nashville police officer — said it doesn’t seem fair for the town to pay the officers’ share. If the town pays more toward these two employees’ retirement, it’s going to have to find more money to do the same for all town employees, he said.

Nashville Clerk-Treasurer Brenda Young said the 2017 budget is still being worked on and it’s unclear whether there’s room in it to pay a higher retirement contribution going forward.

To get the plan started for the next year, the town would have to commit soon to get everything in order by Jan. 1, True said.

The town could delay making a decision, but that would mean buying back more officers’ years after more of them become eligible next year, Young said.

Seastrom said regardless of what the council decides about the buy-back option, the 1977 fund is still a worthwhile program to help the town develop and keep its police force.

Wendling asked if the town could loan the officers money to buy back their years, and the answer was no because of Indiana State Board of Accounts rules about government loaning to employees.

“We have two gentlemen that risk their lives every day for this community … and in the last few months we’ve seen a number of policemen shot — fortunately not in this county — and I think we really owe it to them to really look into this,” Wendling said.

The topic is on the agenda of the Thursday, Sept. 15 town council meeting, which starts at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall.

Sara Clifford has been raising a family in Brown County since 2005 and leading the Brown County Democrat since late 2009. In addition to editor, she is the beat reporter for town government and writes columns, features and general news stories.