By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
With more retirement pension reform pending in the state legislature, Middletown, already gouged by a flood of retirements this year, is anticipating a second wave of sayonaras to hit town hall.
A proposal by Governor Chris Christie would increase the early-retirement age, and years of service requirement from 25 years to 30. That, town attorney Brian Nelson said, “precipitated a whole second wave of retirements we didn’t even expect.
“Anyone that’s close to their 25 years wants to get out now,” Nelson said.
Christie’s initial pension reform made the number of Middletown retirements jump, “and it may jump even more,” said Chief Financial Officer Nick Trasente. Noting an element of the proposal that would reduce benefits by 3 percent for every year of early-retirement, “there’s a few police officers watching this” and would be willing to accept a smaller, existing penalty, he said.
Following the state’s decision to cap benefits payouts, Middletown witnessed an unprecedented exodus from town hall, particularly from the police department. About 20 township employees retired, putting the town on the line for about $1 million in payouts, Trasente said.
Only recently did officers matriculate from the police academy to township ranks, allowing the department to make the necessary promotions to fill its management positions left vacant by retirees.
While the governor’s reforms are triggering these retirements, he’s also put a new law into action that allows municipalities to spread out pension and benefit payment over five years, opposed to one year.
“We have more options to deal with them than in the past,” Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger said.
He also said it’s still unclear how many retirements may be coming. There are “a few” eligible employees, he said, but no official paperwork has been filed lately.
“I don’t know if it’s a wave yet, but it’s a handful,” Scharfenberger said. “We’re kind of just waiting and seeing.”