Pension dispute leads sheriff to forgo county contract

A long-running dispute between Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers and the County Council led to the sheriff forgoing a contract last year, instead taking a higher income with part of his pay coming from the money collected from tax warrants in the county.

For several years, Myers has asked the council to revise the county pension rules to allow him to collect a pension. The rules require the sheriff to serve in the department for 8 years and a month to qualify for a pension, despite paying into the county’s pension system. Because Myers came from the Columbus Police Department and because his elected terms are only an even eight years, he does not qualify for a pension.

The sheriff has argued that the rule unfairly penalizes anyone who runs for office from outside the sheriff’s department.

The Council has repeatedly turned down the sheriff’s request for a rule change. After last year’s denial, Myers opted not to sign a contract, according to sheriff’s department attorney Jeff Beck. Beck said that under Indiana law, sheriffs must make a minimum of 80 percent of the salary of county prosecutors under a contract. But they can make the maximum of the same salary as the prosecutor makes if they forgo a contract and draw money from the collected tax warrants, or about $159 thousand dollars. That is the option Myers took, Beck said.

County Attorney Chris Monroe had a different take on the law. In his view, without a contract in place the county is not required to set the sheriff’s salary at the minimum and can in fact go even lower.

The sheriff’s annual contract discussion came up at this week’s council meeting. Some council members expressed frustration and concerns that the sheriff received a pay raise last year without a contract.

Myers did not appear before the council for the discussion. Beck said that he would likely no longer represent the sheriff in the salary discussions, because it is a personal matter with the sheriff and not a larger sheriff’s department issue.

The council put off discussion of the sheriff’s salary to a later meeting.