MERIDEN — The number of municipal employees who accepted retirement incentives surprised some city officials who are now concerned about the impact on several departments.
“I was surprised,” said Deputy Mayor Michael Cardona. “I thought the incentive was strong but I didn’t think it would be that significant.”
Fifty-eight municipal employees, including several department heads, have notified the city they will retire next year. Approximately 165 employees were eligible to participate. Board of Education and public safety employees were ineligible. The incentive program was devised as a way to save money in the next several years by moving short-term severance costs into employee pensions.
City Manager Tim Coon is meeting with department heads who plan to retire, including Finance Director Michael Lupkas, City Assessor Deborah Zunda, Purchasing Agent Wilma Petro, City Attorney Deborah Moore, Public Utilities Director Dennis Waz and Library Director Karen Roesler.
Cardona believes the job of finance director is a priority because the city is beginning to craft a budget for the next fiscal year.
But he is satisfied that Coon is meeting with all department heads to structure a timeline for leaving and filling vacancies in their departments.
“I don’t anticipate any employees leaving the city high and dry when we need them the most,” Cardona said.
Councilor Walter Shamock said leadership in the finance, law and purchasing departments is critical.
“The finance director and Debbie Moore, those are very key positions,” Shamock said.“You can’t let it sit six months. We have to put a feeler out right away, you’re not going to go in house (for a replacement). I never expected so many to leave at once.”
Coon said no department head can retire until they have been replaced or there is a succession plan.
“Practically speaking, this means that none are leaving before June 30, 2019,” he said.
Coon has already taken on the role of Personnel Director, which has been vacant since October. The city replaced former Director of Engineering Bob Bass with engineering assistant Howard Weissman several months ago and former City Planner Robert Seale was replaced by assistant city planner Renata Bertotti earlier this month.
The City Charter stipulates that the city manager act as personnel director when there is a vacancy. A second round of applications closed Friday for personnel director. Candidates will be interviewed by a search committee the next week.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati believes hiring a personnel director is the top priority because the person will assist Coon in managing the retirements and the new hires.
Scarpati was made aware of the number of possible retirements when Coon and Lupkas explained the plan to elected officials earlier this year.
“This process gives department heads and the city manager an opportunity to look at impacted departments and find ways to make it more efficient,” Scarpati said. “(The process provides a way) to reallocate staff time where needed, to look closer at each position and evaluate each position to restructure as needed.”
Scarpati does not feel the retirements will affect services, but recognizes the burden the departures places on Coon.
“I check on him regularly,” Scarpati said. “I think we need to hold ourselves accountable...we predicted the number of retirees. We need to be prepared to implement this plan and provide all services necessary for our residents.”