Selectmen Workshop Raises Staffing Concerns
by Lynne Ober
Concerns that most or even all of the Hudson Police Department’s Command personnel could retire in less than three years spurred debate at the past few Board of Selectmen meetings.
At the August Selectmen’s workshop with selected department heads, Police Chief Jason Lavoie reported on the status of his department and future concerns. The workshop minutes show that in response to a question from Selectman Roger Coutu about succession planning, Lavoie said, “Do I think that there are people within the agency that could step in and replace me? Absolutely. I think there are people within.”
However, he then went on to say, “… there is a potential issue out there. Sadly I’m not fully up to speed as to where it stands now so I will make that statement. Just because there’s been so many things tossed around for the last three or four years regarding retirement that I’m just waiting until I get the official word comes down but as of right now my understanding is that people with 20 years of service and age 45 who don’t retire by December 31, 2015, there will be a significant impact on their retirement. If you worked January 1, 2016, your retirement would be a lot less. The affect that has on Hudson is you could be looking at roughly 13 cops that will leave and there could be a few more. Some that have the 20 don’t have the age and may leave because they’ve also prepared themselves for another life once they grow up if you will and they have to get a real job. So there could be more. You’d be looking a losing roughly a Chief, a couple of Captains, a couple Lieutenants, maybe all three. One of those falls into the area of not having the age but has sent themselves up for being able to do other things. So you’d lose your Captains, your Chief, your three Lieutenants, three Sergeants, and possible [sic] two more Sergeants. In essence, you’d be losing your entire staff. You’d also be looking at probably losing a couple of patrol officers who will have the 20 years and maybe not the age.”
Hearing that command staff could all potentially retire during December, 2015, selectmen invited their State Representative contingent to the September workshop meeting. Attending were Russ Ober, Rick LeVasseur, Jordan Ulery, Andy Renzullo, Mary Ann Knowles, and myself [Lynne Ober]. Coutu asked about the retirement situation and what changes had been made to the system to cause all the command staff to retire at once. Because no changes had been made to the pension system since 2011 and during that time, no changes were made to pension system members who were already vested, there was a promise made by the state representatives to review the August workshop minutes and report back. That has been done.
During the 2011 legislative changes a number of bills and options for changing the NH Retirement System, which was greatly unfunded were considered. Many were rejected. The NH Retirement System is funded via three sources: Employee contributions, employer contributions and, interest earned over the years from the other contributions.
Employees, particularly first responders, can increase their annual pension payments by working a number of overtime hours or special detail hours during their last working years. During 2011 this was changed from three years to five years for new hires, but not for already vested employees.
However, the provision that prohibited vacation and banked sick time from being added to the pension calculation, which ensures that employees got a much higher pension was not passed. The reason that this was considered is that the pension contribution for these dollars is paid at the time of award, but when banked and paid out later, the higher salary level is used to pay out and no pension contribution is ever paid on the difference between the higher amount and the earning salary, thus causing a shortfall in the pension system while enhancing a retiree’s annual pension amount. Many states no longer allow this amount to be considered. The Chief was unaware that the 2011 bill had been killed and so was under the impression that as of December 31, 2015 employees had to retire in order to capture this payout and increase their annual pension.
According to pension administrators, lobbying efforts during the time that this bill was considered in 2011 had been made, including contacting all potentially affected employees, but when the bill was killed the lobbyists did not provide that information to all potentially affected employees. As a result a handout had been prepared and posted on the NH Retirement System website in an effort to education that pool of employees. The handout was forwarded via e-mail to all Hudson selectmen after they asked their state representatives about this situation.