A recent spate of Fire Department retirements that came on the heels of brief provisional promotions or transfers translate will to an additional $883,000 in overall benefit payouts from the municipal pension plan, according to the town's actuarial, Hooker & Holcombe, Inc.
An anonymous letter to Board of Finance Chairman Thomas Flynn last December alerted town officials that, over the last few months, firefighters had been receiving promotions or transfers and, in some cases, retiring only a few weeks later. The promotions or transfers bumped up their pay upon which their pensions are based.
Ryor said one retirement prior to July 1, 2012, was reflected in the annual recommended contribution to the pension fund for 2013-14, while the other eight won't affect the ARC until the 2014-15 fiscal year, making the contribution about $83,000 more than expected for the next 15 years.
"This was a one-time perfect storm," Ryor said.
"How is this a `perfect storm'?" finance member James Walsh said. "Can it continue to happen?"
Robert Mayer, the first selectman's chief of staff and interim town fiscal officer, said the temporary firefighter appointments took place because there was no promotional list in place since the prior administration didn't want to spend money on the testing process.
"There was a test, and there will be a list," Mayer said, adding the practice of provisional appointments has been discontinued. A promotional exam was given earlier this year, postponed from last October because of Superstorm Sandy.
Under the local firefighters' contract, if a promotional list was not in place, provisional appointments were made to fill any vacancies. The contract also required the Fire Commission hold a promotional test within 90 days of a vacancy if no list is available.
Mayer said the testing process costs about $20,000.
"I find it troubling that this is used as an excuse for this problem," Selectman Kevin Kiley said. "We keep hearing about not having a list and now having a list will keep this from happening. I'm not sure we can continue to blame the previous administration for a $15,000 to $20,000 test."
Walsh asked if Mayer was saying the previous administration told the Fire Commission not to do any promotional testing. "I'm only quoting the fire chief," Mayer said.
Kiley said the Fire Department has a $14 million budget, but apparently a management decision was made not to spend the money.
First Selectman Michael Tetreau said his administration will make sure the proper promotional policies are in place and make sure provisional appointments just prior to retirement are "difficult if not impossible."
He said the Fire Commission did not make a request for funds for testing.
Flynn asked about the status of an independent counsel's review of the situation, which Tetreau had estimated would take about a month to complete.
Town Attorney Stanton Lesser said he is working with the lawyer, and "it's not going to be a 30-day process. "He has to get people together and talk to them," Lesser said.
Another finance board member, Kenneth Brachfeld, said he is willing to wait for the independent counsel's report regarding the promotional process, and that he is more concerned with the $883,000 figure. "That assumes a 7.5 percent return" on the pension fund investments, Brachfeld said. "The number is most likely in excess of $1 million ... It's not nothing. We fight over a lot less here."
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