A standing-room-only crowd turned out for Monday's Representative Town Meeting, with most on hand to learn about proposed cuts in the 2011-12 budget, but the legislative body's review of a new contract for Town Hall workers was called precedent-setting by some officials because of a change in retirement benefits.

Some RTM members, however, felt the benefit changes fail to make savings that are significant enough.

So large was the crowd at Osborn Hill School, however, that Assistant Fire Chief George Gomola first had to warn those without seats to keep the doorways and exits clear, as many were forced to stand along the walls or sat in the hallway.

Before tackling the budget cuts, the RTM reviewed the new contract for 84 Town Hall employees that includes a requirement that any new hires no longer be part of the municipal pension plan. Instead, the workers will be eligible to join 401a plan, similar to a 401k. Wage increases over the three years of the pact range from 0 percent to 3.5 percent, with some of the increases coming at six-month intervals. The contract also changes from a flat-rate employee contribution for medical insurance to an adjustable percent-based contribution.

The contract passed by a vote of 35 in favor, eight opposed and one abstention.

But RTM member Joseph Palmer still wasn't pleased with the contract, which first came to the legislative body last year and was turned down.

"Everything we do now is going to be a precedent for the other seven contracts," Palmer said of the new contract. He said the town would save even more money if the employee premium contribution was raised to 20 percent, instead of 10 percent. "That's still well below the private sector," he said.

David Becker, a Republican RTM member and candidate for first selectman, said the RTM and Board of Finance asked for a study on municipal pension plans last year.

First Selectman Kenneth Flatto, however, responded, "We can do all the studies we want," but the collective bargaining process will govern what contracts are negotiated. Flatto said there are plenty of studies that already exist looking at the pros and cons of both 401a and defined-benefit pension plans. "I don't know how much more another study is going to tell you," he said.

Another RTM member, Cristin McCarthy Vahey, said all the town bodies need to discuss the long-term impact of employee benefits.

"We were attempting to get the 401a, which we thought was the primary reason the RTM voted against the contract last year," Human Resources Director Mary Carroll Mirylees said. "We did obtain the 401a, which is an enormous change. It took a lot of negotiating to get that."

RTM member William Llwelleyn said while the town continues to take "baby steps" in changing its employee benefits, "the numbers keep getting higher. He said employees will pay about $3,800 a year for health insurance. "A lot of people in the world now don't have that," he contended. "They're paying a lot more than $3,800 a year."