Bill to create DNR law enforcement retirement plan faces one final hurdle

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Legislation to create a retirement program for the Natural Resources Police in West Virginia will be up for passage in the state Senate on Thursday.

The legislation is the result of four years of work by members of the Natural Resources Police Officers Association and the Division of Natural Resources working with the Consolidated Public Retirement Board.

Natural Resources Police are often the only law enforcement officers in some West Virginia counties.

“The DNR officers right now are the only statewide law enforcement agency which doesn’t have their own retirement system. It’s become a competitive disadvantage for the DNR,” said DNR Director Steve McDaniel in addressing the Senate Finance Committee about the legislation.

Under the legislation expected to be approved Thursday,  the Natural Resources Police would have a retirement plan similar to that of Sheriff’s deputies in the state. Currently the Natural Resources Police are in the same Public Employee Retirement System as every other state worker not in law enforcement.

McDaniel told members of the committee the lack of lucrative retirement makes it harder to keep new officers and it’s a financial strain when they leave.

“Seems like every time we get a class I lose two or three. As soon as I train someone and a position opens up for a deputy sheriff or a city police officer, they leave and it costs $50,000 to $60,000 to train an officer,” he said.

The legislation sets up a system within the Consolidated Public Retirement Board which would increase the multiplier for Natural Resources Police Officers from 2% to 2.25% for the next five years. After five years, the multiplier will increase again to 2.5%. According to McDaniel it would give incentive for young officers to stay on board and for those nearing retirement to stick around and not all leave at once. It would also give an older officer an incentive to get out with an improved benefit package.

The legislation will allow the Natural Resources Police to retire at age 55. The new system will also guarantee the family of an officer killed in the line of duty would receive 100% of his or her retirement instead of 50% as it now stands.

“In many counties, we are the only law enforcement. My guys are run upon with cars, we’re always encountering people with high powered rifles,” said McDaniel.

Currently the DNR’s law enforcement section is budgeted for 126 officers, but the force is currently at 117. McDaniel said it’s become almost impossible to keep the force at full staff because of the lack of the competitive retirement plan.

To pay for the system, the retirement board will create two positions to run the fund. Officers and the agency will pay for the service. The officers’ contribution to retirement will go from the current 4.5% to 9.5 % and the agency’s contribution will increase from 10% to 12%. The cost to the DNR in the first year will be $134,000. McDaniel said if it kept three new officers from leaving it would save the $150,000 which was spent to train them and would be a savings.

The bill passed the House of Delegates unanimously and appears to have strong support in the state Senate.





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