MERIDEN — Savings from a new city retirement incentive program has freed up funds to return two school resource officers to the middle schools, city officials said Tuesday.
City Manager Tim Coon and finance officials identified $60,525 to pay the costs of putting two officers at Lincoln and Washington middle schools. The positions were eliminated by the police chief several months ago after the police budget was cut.
The City Council agreed Monday to send a plan to the council’s Finance Committee to cover the cost of the school officers. The plan transfers money for retirement payouts for as many as nine employees into the police budget.
A Finance Committee hearing on the proposal will be held Dec. 3. If approved, the matter goes before the City Council for a vote.
“Line item transfers have to come through the Finance (Committee),” Coons said, adding the council was in agreement to restore the officers. “It was a priority of the council and myself to figure out how to make it happen.”
The incentive program is meant to reduce separation payments to employees upon retirement. Eligible employees would have the option to delay their separation payment and roll it into their pension.
Finance Director Michael Lupkas has said the plan eases the impact on the city's annual budget because payments would be paid over years.
Councilor Miguel Castro said the plan speaks to Lupkas’ "expertise" and “due diligence."
It normally pays out between $500,000 and $600,000 annually from the annual budget for separation payments.
Council Majority Leader David Lowell said the council’s not certain on total savings this year because it’s not clear how many employees will take the offer. He also said the council needs to be mindful of keeping funds available should they need transfers for the snow removal budget.
Police Chief Jeffry Cossette said in October he hoped to reinstate the officers by the start of this month, but first had to monitor overtime expenses.
Cossette cut three of the department’s five SRO positions and the city’s entire 11-officer Neighborhood Initiative Unit on Sept. 15 after the mayor and City Council reduced the police budget by a total of $423,000. The officers were retained and returned to regular patrol to reduce overtime.
School Superintendent Mark Benigni supported putting the officers back in the school. The officers are responsible for providing security, conducting programming and building rapport with students and families.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati, who couldn’t be reached for a comment Tuesday, initially wanted to transfer money from the city’s contingency fund just days after the officers were removed, but pulled back because he didn’t have enough support from councilors.