The Howard County Council approved a motion Tuesday to bring increased benefits to the children of fallen officers.
The council voted unanimously in favor of the motion, which was tabled in May and will raise the amount paid to the dependents of deceased officers from $30 to $1,000 per month through an adjustment to the sheriff’s department’s benefit plan.
While the council had previously discussed the option of including officers who die of natural causes, the benefits increase will only involve officers killed in the line of duty, according to Howard County Sheriff Steve Rogers.
Rogers has said previously his primary goal was to provide funding for the families of officers like Deputy Carl Koontz, who died on March 20 after a shootout in Russiaville and left behind a young son, Noah Koontz.
The determination of whether a death qualifies as in the line of duty is made first by federal and state agencies, after which the Sheriff’s Department Merit Board approves payment through the county’s benefit package, noted Rogers.
The sheriff’s department’s benefit consulting firm, Indianapolis-based McCready and Keene, will use the guidelines and decisions established by state and federal agencies to determine the appropriate benefit package, after which the merit board will sign off.
“We can’t arbitrarily make that decision,” noted Rogers, clarifying that a line of duty death is usually considered whenever an officer is engaged in law enforcement activity. “We have to rely on state and federal guidelines.”
The $1,000 per month benefit would be standard among all families, regardless of how many dependents are involved.
For instance, four dependents of a fallen officer would receive the same monthly amount as a single dependent of another deceased officer. Funding would continue until the youngest child turns 18 years old.
While some counties provide $1,000 to each dependent, Rogers wanted to be “a little more conservative,” he noted previously.
The increase, which is retroactive to Jan. 1, would come as the first adjustment to the $30 amount since the plan was adopted in 1974.
In relation to the department’s pension plan, Stan Brown of McCready and Keene said it is solvent enough to handle such funding increases.
In addition, Rogers called the pension plan, which is paid by officer contributions and service of civil process fees in lieu of dipping into the general fund, one of “most solvent plans in the state.”
Rogers, who said the benefit package cost will increase initially by $23,834, noted the county will not have to draw from its general fund to pay the benefits, partly due to a new civil process fee rate.