Chronic personnel shortages in Springfield’s police and fire departments could be remedied in part by permitting the rehiring of retired officers and firefighters.
At its Nov. 15 meeting, Springfield City Council heard the first reading of a bill that would allow these rehires, which are currently disallowed under the retirement system.
Council is scheduled to vote on the proposal Nov. 29.
The move would amend the city’s code as it pertains to the Police Officers’ and Firefighters’ Retirement System.
The new section to the code proposed is titled “In Service Distributions After Retirement,” and it states that a former employee receiving service retirement benefits after 25 years of service may be rehired or reinstated by the city and continue or commence to receive these benefits.
“Their reemployment by the city shall not prevent in-service distribution of the normal service retirement benefits,” the suggested language states. In-service distributions would not be permitted for rehired or reinstated ex-employees who do not have 25 years of service.
Rehired or reinstated employees would not earn additional benefits or service credit under the plan, but they would continue to receive retirement pay while working post-retirement.
Retirees could be rehired at the position they vacated, though that would be controlled by a competitive process, including testing for certain positions. They could alternately be hired for other positions within the department or the city.
The Police Department has 47 vacancies among sworn officers, out of a full staffing level of 368, with 16 vacancies among non-sworn personnel out of a full staffing level of 85, according to city spokesperson Cora Scott. The Fire Department also is not at full force, but exact numbers were not available at publication time. The department’s website indicates full staffing is 220 people.
Lance Roskens, assistant city attorney, explained the proposed change, saying, “The goal of this is to allow those individuals who have 25 years of service … to be able to retire and then apply for and receive pension and then come back and work for the city if they so choose to do.”
The ability to work for the city after retirement does not currently exist, he explained.
Councilperson Richard Ollis called the measure a good thing and said he supports it, provided normal hiring processes are used, but he cautioned that the process would have to be a quick one.
“If I put somebody through a process that took a year to hire them, in today’s marketplace we would not be able to hire people because of that length of process,” he said.
City Manager Jason Gage agreed that speed was of the essence, though he noted the city charter requires a competitive process and bargaining units have yet to weigh in.
“Our hope is that we can try to create the most efficient process possible,” he said.
Councilperson Andrew Lear expressed his support for the bill.
“This is something that the council has been asking for for a long period of time, and I kind of view this as enabling legislation, in that unless we have this, we can’t even contemplate the policy decisions that we’re talking about,” he said. “We’ll have the opportunity then to talk about these policy things that hopefully allow us to retain some of the experienced officers that currently are disincentivized from trying to stay with us.”
Councilperson Craig Hosmer also expressed his support for keeping officers on board after they retire.
“The process hopefully will be to try to catch some of those officers that have retired to fill that gap of 40 officers or 50 officers that we’re short,” he said. “We lost 400 years of experience in 2020 from officers who retired.”
Added Hosmer, “I hope that as a city we are very aggressive in communicating this to officers that are either about to retire or have recently retired, because we need their help back in the city. We need to be at full staff so that we can deal with the problems that the city needs to deal with.”
Roskens explained the Police Officers’ and Firefighters’ Retirement System Board of Trustees would vote Nov. 18 on whether to back the plan. He added that the plan’s actuary does not believe the move will have any impact on the funding ratio of the police and fire pension plan.
“Individuals who have 25 years of service primarily almost exclusively all leave, because at 25 years of service, they cap out on the maximum amount of pension benefits that they can obtain,” he said.
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