City employees get early retirement plan

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 17, 2002

Hypothetically, someone hired by the City of Suffolk at age 20 could enter full retirement while holding onto remnants of their youth at 50, based on a new plan approved by City Council Wednesday night.

City government employees can look forward to retirement five years earlier thanks to city council’s endorsement Wednesday night. In a 7-0 vote, City Council supported a change to the plan, moving the eligible age from 55 to 50 years old contingent on 30 years of service.

The issue boiled down to putting city employees on a level playing field with the school system. According to Assistant City Manager for Administration, Cynthia D. Rolhf, the measure requires a one percent payroll increase, or $320,000.

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Before joining in concert with the majority of council, Mayor E. Dana Dickens III expressed concern as to whether council should act considering the state budget crisis – and not knowing the final outcome.

&uot;The concern I have is the cost,&uot; said Dickens, &uot;with not having a better handle with what we’re going to be facing with the governor’s budget…I fully support the equity part of it.&uot;

City Manager Myles E. Standish explained there’s &uot;small payroll savings,&uot; given that the early retirement would result in the positions being filled at a far lesser salary, or the jobs being eliminated altogether.

Councilman Charles F. Brown would like the city to use the early retirements as an opportunity to evaluate potential areas of greater efficiency, possibly streamlining some departments, if needed, he said.

Councilwoman Linda Johnson saw the move as creating some cost savings, while opening the door for younger candidates for employment.

Stressing that the city should provide a level playing field for city employees, just as the school system, Johnson alluded to council’s earlier allocation of funds to erect a fountain downtown and said, &uot;These are people we’re talking about.&uot;

Councilman Bobby Ralph, who retired as the city’s director of social services last year, also advocated for the vote.

&uot;It’s a matter of treating employees fairly,&uot; said Ralph.

The change will take effect July 1, 2003, making an estimated 19 employees eligible. Under the existing age 55-30 years of service provision, 8 employees meet the guidelines, and another 11 could take advantage of the option during the upcoming fiscal year.

If all the eligible employees retire, potential salary savings equal $260,000, the difference between the current salary and minimum of the pay range.

The 1999 General Assembly approved the program offering full retirement benefits at age 50 with 30 years of service, which was mandated for school professional employees.

In July 1999, the school board opted to include all school employees.

Suffolk provides full benefits at age 65 with at least five years of service, or age 55 with 30 years of service. The city currently pays out 9 percent of payroll for retirement benefits. City salaries amount to more than $32 million of the $250 million operating budget.