NAUGATUCK — Eight police officers, the maximum eligible, will retire early under the borough’s incentive program, which allows their pensions to be calculated as if they had served in the department for 25 years.
“The early retirement program is beneficial to the future financial needs of the borough, and the police department will continue to operate effectively and efficiently,” Chief of Police Christopher Edson wrote in an e-mail response.
Two of the officers, both 24-year veterans, have already retired, and the rest will stagger their dates between now and Dec. 31, 2012. The Board of Mayor and Burgesses last month approved pensions of nearly $60,000 for Det. Larry Calhoun and nearly $72,000 for Patrolman James Cegielski.
Under a new pension plan approved last month, currently employed officers who retire after 25 years in the department receive a pension equal to 75 percent of the average earnings from their highest-paying three years of employment, including overtime but excluding private duty pay. Officers who retire after 20 to 24 years of service receive 70 to 74 percent of their highest-earning three years’ pay.
Before the October agreement, pensions were calculated based on the retiree’s last three years of employment; officers retiring after 20 to 24 years received pensions between 60 and 68 percent.
The early retirements will cost the borough extra in the short term, as pensions are paid out months or years earlier than they would have been if the officers had chosen to retire at the 25-year mark.
The retiring officers’ pensions, and therefore the exact cost to the borough, cannot be calculated until their retirement dates are finalized, according to Controller Wayne McAllister.
“When the police department is able to determine retirement dates for the remaining eligible officers, we will be able to accurately calculate the financial impact,” McAllister wrote in an e-mail response. “Anything else would be a random guess.”
The borough offered the early retirements to some police union members in exchange for an agreement to put new hires in defined-contribution pension plans, similar to 401(k) plans, instead of the defined-benefit plans that officers currently enjoy.
Under the defined-contribution plan, new hires will contribute at least 3.75 percent of their income to their pensions.
The borough will contribute 3.75 percent, and all contributions will be invested in the stock market. The employee gets the returns on the investments upon retirement.
That change is expected to save the borough about $900,000 by 2030.
“It had to be bargained for, and unfortunately there were costs associated with doing it,” Mayor Robert Mezzo said.
“When you make years of decisions to spend beyond what you can sustain, there’s consequences.”
Sgt. Bryan Cammarata, the police union president, said he did not expect all eight officers to retire early, especially those 24-year veterans who would not be gaining as much financially.
“It’s kind of bittersweet, because obviously you’re happy for them, but you’re losing some valuable people out of there,” Cammarata said.
All the retiring officers will be replaced, according to Edson. The positions of two lieutenants and a captain will be filled through promotions, while patrolmen will be hired to fill out the bottom tier. Background checks are being conducted for five potential new hires, who could enter the state’s police academy in January, according to Edson.
The majority of the department, composed of close to 60 union members plus the non-union chief and deputy chief, has more than 10 years of experience, but with the turnover caused by the early retirements, the department will skew younger, according to Edson.
The retirements are being staggered to make the transition easier, and the department encourages officers to continue their education and train to move up in the ranks, according to Edson.
“In any professional organization, staff development is an important component to insuring long-term success,” Edson wrote.