CLINTON — The Board of Selectmen voted this week to approve a future change to the police and fire departments’ retirement plans, but said that it will not go into effect for another year.

The board met Tuesday and continued the discussion on switching the fire and police departments to a Maine Public Employees Retirement System plan. Police Chief Stanley “Rusty” Bell and Fire Chief Travis Leary spoke earlier this month in support of the plan, saying it would improve retention and recruitment of agency staff.

“I know that both chiefs feel squeezed in this situation — they have departments coming after their existing employees, they’re trying to retain them,” said Town Manager Earla Haggerty. “This is one way to help retain them.”

For the police department, Bell had proposed taking the funding for a third full-time officer to instead pay for the increased cost of the new plan for the other two full-time officers, and give them a slight raise.

The fire department does not have that option, and if the plan went into effect this year, would require the city to use $13,000 from overlay to pay for it, Haggerty said.

Ultimately, board members said they were not prepared to spend that money right away, and would rather wait to build the cost into next year’s budget. The change would take effect in July 2022, when it will be accounted for in the budget.

“I’d like to see it in next year’s budget,” said Selectman Geraldine Dixon. “But I’d like people to know we are wanting to do it for them.”

Chairman Jeffrey Towne said that he felt that making the change now would be “circumventing the budgetary process” and that he would like to wait so that residents can vote on the matter as well.

Haggerty said that she also wished that the issue had come up last spring so that it could have been accounted for in the current budget.

“Last spring there was no conversation about this; there was no concern about it at all,” she said. “This has developed recently because there’s so much competition in keeping employees and in recruiting. Both chiefs consider it an emergency situation with their department — whether the board believes it to be an emergency is another matter.”

The new plan includes a 25-year countdown to retirement for employees, starting on their first day of work. It also has a larger contribution from the employee and the town than the current plan.

Now, both the employee and the town contribute 3% of the employee’s salary. The new plan would include a contribution from the employee around 8%, and a town contribution of 13.8% of the worker’s gross pay.

The new plan would mean that the other four town employees would have to change their retirement plans slightly, Haggerty said. “We can do that without the employees losing anything — it’s just a different carrier,” she said.

Both Bell and Leary have said they have struggled over the years to retain employees, who frequently leave for better pay and benefits in other towns.

Earlier this month, nearby Pittsfield approved a sidebar agreement with its police union to offer incentives to new officers. The agreement expanded the residency requirement to 50 miles from the police station, established an employee sick bank, and will offer a $15,000 signing bonus for the first year to new officers.

In discussing the retirement plan in Clinton, several selectmen questioned if the change would really attract people when other towns are offering bonuses.

TRUCK PURCHASES

Also discussed at the Tuesday meeting was the purchase of a truck for the transfer station. The board has previously discussed the need for the employees at the transfer station to have a vehicle to use to collect trash from the town parks and town office. The employees are currently using a personal vehicle for these tasks.

The board discussed the purchase of a specific truck, which has a high number of miles on it, and has a plow and sander attached. The owner said he would be willing to sell it for $8,000.

Selectmen questioned the need for the plow and the sander, and suggested something smaller than this truck. They also questioned the price of the truck with the number of miles on it, and ultimately directed the transfer station to pass on this vehicle and keep looking.

The board moved on to discuss the situation with the True Road culvert. Frank Gioffre, the town’s code enforcement officer and Department of Environmental Protection liaison, encouraged the board to move quickly so that the issue can be fixed next summer.

The window of opportunity for the construction is only July 15 through Sept. 30. Additionally, the Department of Environmental Protection has said that the project must be engineered, Gioffre said.

He had spoken with Dirigo Engineering, a Fairfield-based firm that has experience with this type of project, and asked the board to approve the $20,000 cost to hire the engineering firm.

The firm will oversee and assist as the project develops, Gioffre said, and it is urgent to get this moving now so that the town is able to fix this next summer.

“We’re draining over 3,500 acres — that’s a lot of ground and there’s no guarantee as to how serious this is getting but I think we’re running out of time,” Gioffre said.

While there was a mild winter and spring, the increased rainfall this month has sped up the deterioration at the site, and if there is more rain this summer and a lot of snow in the winter it will get even worse, town officials said.

The board also agreed to hold a special meeting next Tuesday, Aug. 3, at 6:30 p.m. On the agenda will be the final contract with Dirigo Engineering for the True Road project, and the board will hear from the assessor’s agent, Garnett Robinson, about property taxes.


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