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Hall County first responders sue government for $75M
Claim pension gap delaying retirements
Hall County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Brad Rounds speaks about staying in the workforce due to not having the money needed to retire Friday during an interview at his Clermont home. - photo by Erin O. Smith/The Times

HALL COUNTY – About 10 months ago, Hall County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Brad Rounds said he reflected on the state of his fellow first responders seeking to retire.

Though he never expected to be a cop, Rounds is reaching his 29th year with the department after joining at age 19.

“Yet, our friends that work for the Gainesville Police Department that have 20 and 25 years of service are retiring and making” $30,000 per year or more, Rounds said.

Rounds made the decision to reach out to an Atlanta law firm, Buckley Beal, regarding an issue of frozen pension benefits in the county.

“As soon as the word got out, people came out in droves ... because we’re all in the same boat,” Rounds said.

Now Rounds and an expected group of 100 current and retired employees have filed an estimated $75 million lawsuit against the Hall County Board of Commissioners. County Attorney Bill Blalock and spokeswoman Katie Crumley both said they cannot comment on pending litigation.

Rounds and four other current and former county employees are named in the lawsuit as plaintiffs.

The alleged freeze in pension benefits occurred in 1998, when the lawsuit claims the county “made no additional employer contributions for plaintiffs to the ‘trust fund.’”

Rounds said the 1998 freeze was an issue where everybody wanted something done but no one would step up to the challenge. While working in a field with daily risks, some officers are staying in the workforce because they don’t have the money to retire, Rounds said.

“You’re going to have people working for the county that shouldn’t be in these capacities because of their age and their physical abilities,” he said.

According to the lawsuit, Rounds’ monthly pension benefit would be $2,567 under the plan’s formula. Under the freeze, however, his monthly pension benefit is only $389 per month, according to the lawsuit.

County commissioners were served with a copy of the lawsuit at their meeting Thursday, with a block of some 30 employees sitting with attorneys Michael Kramer and Ed Buckley.

No words were exchanged beyond Hall County Fire Services volunteer chaplain Mike Taylor’s invocation calling for issues to be resolved civilly.

“While we were there, other employees that are still in this defined benefit (plan) or in this lawsuit were out in the streets working,” Rounds said.

Rounds said the ultimate goal would be to come to the table with the commissioners to resolve this without having to go to court.