Chief Stanley “Rusty” Bell of the Clinton Police Department, right, meets with Town Manager Earla Haggerty on Sept. 26, 2019. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

CLINTON — To improve recruitment and retention, the police and fire departments are looking to upgrade retirement plans for full-time staff. The move would let the town pay 13.8% of an employee’s salary into that worker’s retirement account, up from three percent currently.

Police Chief Stanley “Rusty” Bell and Fire Chief Travis Leary spoke at a Clinton Board of Selectmen meeting Tuesday in favor of a proposal to move both departments’ full-time employees over to a plan with the Maine Public Employees Retirement System.

Both chiefs said they have struggled over the years to retain employees, who frequently leave for better pay and benefits in other towns. Most other departments in the area have plans like this, they said. Switching would make Clinton more competitive when hiring new people and keeping them longer.

“There’s always going to be people that want to go to a bigger department — just bigger, better things,” Leary said at the Tuesday meeting. “And you can’t control that. But my hope is that this will attract people to stay longer.”

David Barrett, director of personnel services and labor relations at the Maine Municipal Association, said that hiring for fire and police departments is a challenge across the state. Historically, he said, retirement plans have been a major consideration for those deciding to work in public safety.

The proposed plan includes a 25-year countdown to retirement for employees, starting on their first day of work.


“[If] they go to Waterville, Winslow, Fairfield or Oakland, [after] the first day there, they have 24 years, 364 days left until retirement. So they actually can see a countdown towards retirement,” Bell said. “In order to continue to have a police department, we’re going to need to be competitive.”

The plan allows larger contributions from the town and the employee, said Bell. The current police department plan lets both the employee and the town contribute 3% of the employee’s salary. The new plan would OK a contribution from the employee around 8%, and a town contribution of 13.8% of the worker’s gross pay.

The cost of the upgraded plan was not budgeted for the current fiscal year. Both departments’ budgets could be reevaluated to include extra funding in the next budget cycle, but that fiscal year doesn’t start until next July.

For the police department, Bell said, he would use funding for a third officer toward the ballooning retirement-plan expenses. The police department is funded for three full-time officers, but currently only has two. The third position has been open for about two months now, Bell said. One of the current officers will be departing in August, leaving Clinton with just one full-time officer.

Instead of trying to hire two more officers, Bell said, he would hire just one, and use the funding for the third to pay for the retirement plan this year — as well as boost the salaries of the two full-time officers.

“I’d be really happy if I ended up with two full-timers,” Bell said. “I just have that sick feeling that I don’t know if I can [replace] the one that we’re going to lose, I honestly don’t.”


Leary said that he does not have that option at the fire department, which is staffed with three full-time firefighters. In the past, openings have been difficult to fill.

Even if hiring goes smoothly, Leary said, it can take a month or two to hire and train a new person. And when the fire department is understaffed, the firefighters end up working overtime to cover everything.

“We’re spending the money one way or the other — we’re either spending it on overtime because of empty slots, or we’re spending it on retirement and hopefully retaining those people,” Leary said.

Town Manager Earla Haggerty was on vacation and unable to attend the meeting. The board decided to return to the topic at its next gathering, to get her input as well.

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