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Spotsylvania eyes early retirement for some workers

An early-retirement incentive worth tens of thousands of dollars appears to be on the table in Spotsylvania County.

But the Board of Supervisors didn’t publicly discuss the matter until almost two months after 57 county employees received surveys gauging their interest in a proposed “Retirement Opportunity Program.”

At a meeting this week, Supervisor Benjamin Pitts complained that he knew nothing about the proposed retirement program or the survey until receiving calls from county employees.

“That puts this supervisor in a bad position,” Pitts said Tuesday. “I had four county employees asking me about a survey they received and this supervisor didn’t know anything about it.”

The early-retirement proposal would give eligible employees 20 percent of their final salaries for three years, in addition to their state retirement pay. That amounts to a total of $60,000 for an employee who makes $100,000 annually.

County Administrator Doug Barnes said he directed staff to prepare the survey after a discussion with Supervisors Paul Trampe and David Ross.

Trampe said he and Ross asked Barnes in March to measure employee interest in an early-retirement plan. He said he thinks the board will discuss the proposal further, but he’s not sure when.

“The whole point was to try to find savings in the budget” by offering an incentive for high-salaried employees to retire, he said at this week’s meeting.

“There’s nothing wrong with looking at ways to save money in this county,” Ross added, noting that it’s not uncommon for supervisors to suggest cost-saving measures to staff.

Still, Pitts said the survey—which says the county is “considering” a retirement program—shouldn’t have been issued without the consent of the entire board. “Now we have employees under the impression (correctly or incorrectly) that the program is moving forward,” he wrote in an email. “Nothing could be further from the truth at this time.”

He also wondered why the county would pay for costly retirement incentives when it can’t afford needs such as decent pay raises for employees.

Barnes took the blame for not informing the full board of the proposal. “I should have known that this is an emotional issue when you talk about peoples’ retirement,” he said.

Rose Heyward, Spotsylvania’s director of human resources, sent the survey on April 4. She noted in a memo to recipients that the county was trying to gather information and did not have any plans to implement the program.

Twenty-nine employees responded, with 20 of them expressing “some interest,” a county spokeswoman said.

Employees would not be eligible for the proposed early-retirement plan unless they qualify for full benefits under the Virginia Retirement System.

Supervisor Gary Skinner called the proposal a “good idea.”

“I look forward to maybe in the future discussing it among the board members,” he said.

The Spotsylvania School Board adopted a similar early-retirement program in 2009, giving employees a deadline to opt in.

Former Superintendent Jerry Hill controversially retired under the plan, which promised him 20 percent of his final salary for three years, in addition to state retirement benefits.

The Stafford County school system previously offered an early-retirement incentive that paid 10 percent of retirees’ last salaries until their Social Security benefits kicked in. But the board’s legal counsel said the program broke the law by paying those in the program with public funds without making them work. Stafford officials did not explain how their program differed legally from Spotsylvania’s.

The Stafford School Board in May replaced it with a program that gives participants 7 percent of their final salaries if they agree to work a limited number of hours.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402

jbranscome@freelancestar.com

 

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