As pension changes launch wave of retirements, Conn. state police seek raises for top supervisors

Nine of the top 10 officers are eligible to retire as of July 1


By Christopher Keating
Hartford Courant
        
HARTFORD, Conn. — Facing a potential wave of retirements, Gov. Ned Lamont said Tuesday that the state will be offering pay raises and bonuses in an attempt to keep veteran state employees.

The move is being made because thousands of state employees are expected to retire before July 1 — the key date when changes in pension and health benefits will begin as cost-saving measures for the state.

Employees who retire before that date will keep their more-lucrative benefits that they currently have.

“I’m urging people to stay,’' Lamont said when asked by the Courant. “We’re going to have a slight incentive to incent people to stay. I’m not looking for people to wholesale retire.’'

He added, “We’re going to be raising wages under the labor agreement that we’ll be announcing in the next couple of weeks, including some bonus incentives. Doing everything we can to keep people here or take a job in state government because we need you.’'

Lamont is also making moves so that employees have the proper expertise in important positions.

“We’re training people in the skills we need, especially in IT and coding,’' Lamont said. “We have needs.’'

So far, 952 state employees have already retired this year, according to the latest statistics from the state comptroller’s office, which oversees retirements. In addition, 2,140 state employees have filed a non-binding “intent to retire’' notice before June 30, but they must still file their actual retirement papers.

The need is particularly acute in the Connecticut state police, where eight troopers and supervisors retired as of Tuesday in advance of the upcoming benefit changes. In addition, 52 troopers and supervisors have declared they will be retiring on April 1.

When asked by The Courant if all departments across state government would be eligible for incentives — rather than only those with the greatest needs — Lamont responded, “I’ll let you know soon.’'

Public Safety Commissioner James Rovella, who oversees the state police, is looking for raises as a way to retain the command staff because nine of the top 10 officers are eligible to retire as of July 1. That includes one colonel, three lieutenant colonels, and six majors. Captains and lieutenants have their own union and are not included in the non-union total.

“This is about experience, talent retention and compression of pay between the ranks,’' said Brian J. Foley, a top aide to Rovella.

The police pay raises require approval by various levels at the state Department of Administrative Services and the governor’s budget office, which oversees funding for the overall $24.2 billion state budget for the fiscal year that starts on July 1.

The retirements are prompted by an agreement that was negotiated by the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition, known as SEBAC, in 2017.

Employees retiring before July 1 will receive their current benefits that include a guaranteed minimum 2% cost-of-living increase in their annual pensions, as well as free health care premiums for some retirees and spouses. After that date, there will be no guaranteed 2% minimum COLA and health care would cost roughly $80 per month or about $1,000 per year, officials said. The changes also include a longer wait for a cost-of-living adjustment for pension benefits, including waiting 30 months for their first COLA after retirement — instead of nine months.

The rules and nuances are highly complicated, and a summary of the highlights for state employees stretches for nine typewritten pages. The state has multiple “tiers’' that depend on when the employee was hired, and the various tiers have different rules and levels of benefits.

The pay increase for police commanders could range from 3% to 5%, but the final amount has not yet been decided. Police described the proposal as a “one-time pay compression adjustment, not a yearly increase’' into the future.

“It separates captains’ pay from majors, lieutenant colonels and the colonel,’' Foley said. “It also affords CSP to retain some of experience and leadership of the department. The department has seen a huge hiring initiative and a huge promotion of over 100 sergeants and 17 lieutenants. This is a problem that has been developing over the past 10 years, and we are working to fix it.’'

Currently, state police have 140 sergeants, 17 lieutenants, and 11 captains.

The eight officers who retired Tuesday included four troopers, two sergeants, one lieutenant and one captain. Those who have declared they are retiring on April 1 include one lieutenant colonel, three majors, four captains, four lieutenants, 10 sergeants and 30 troopers.

The state police department has been hiring troopers at a steady pace, simply to keep up with retirements.

Since Lamont took office in January 2019, a total of 301 troopers of all ranks have retired, said Andrew Matthews, a retired sergeant who leads the troopers’ union. The SEBAC agreement of 2017 changed the eligibility for a hazardous duty pension to 25 years, up from the current 20 years, he said.

“We’ve seen a significant increase of people leaving exactly at 20 years,’' Matthews said in an interview. “The job has changed so much. Morale is not that great.’'

Matthews is in favor of financial incentives, but he says it is getting late in the process as June 30 approaches.

“It would have been probably more productive for them to think of this a while ago,’' Matthews said.

“Coming up with a solution to retain the institutional knowledge of our agency should have taken a priority a long time ago. It’s positive that he’s trying to fix it now because it’ll be for the future. We hope that he does get salary increases for his command staff because we’ll be seeking the same thing for our guys.’'

Close to a quarter of the state’s total workforce — roughly 13,000 employees — will be eligible for retirement on July 1.

About 8,000 executive branch workers will be eligible for retirement, and some officials expect more than 5,000 to take it. Thousands of workers in the judicial branch and within the state’s higher education system are also expected to depart on July 1, but they were not included in a study by a legislative task force analyzing the issue.

©2022 Hartford Courant.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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