TN County Wrestling with $28M for Two Closed Plans

March 28, 2011 ( – Knox County, Tennessee, has $28.3 million in unfunded pension liabilities for two closed defined benefit plans – even with a $15.75 million pension bond issued in 1998, county officials discovered in a recent meeting.

The Knoxville News Sentinel said consultant Bob Cross of USI Consulting Group told members of the county’s Pension and Investment Committee that the participants and beneficiaries for the school DB plan and a general employee DB plan will not be off the books until at least 2050 for both programs.

“Is there a way to shorten up the 50 years that we need to make contributions? I don’t have the answer, but it’s something we need to look at,” said commission Chairman Mike Hammond, also a pension board member, according to the news report.

“There’s no end in sight, even after these plans have been closed for 20 years,” county Senior Director of Finance John Troyer said, according to the newspaper. Added county Mayor Tim Burchett: “The pensions are a money pit, and these things keep getting deeper and deeper. They talk about how solvent they are, but yet we keep putting millions into them. It’s like we have a bucket with water in it and we need to look for a cork.”

Initially, according to the News Sentinel, voters were sold on a plan that would cost about 12% of the participants’ payroll, or $3.3 million in the first year. To fund it, however, the county took out $57 million in bonds. This year, the plan cost taxpayers $8.6 million with a little less than half of that for paying off the annual debt, the newspaper said.

The pension plan is now up to 15% of payroll and could increase to 19%, officials said.