October 23, 2018

Essex Selectmen Endorse Changes to Pension Rules for Town Meeting Approval

ESSEX— The board of selectmen has endorsed a change in the general retirement plan for town employees while also considering an enhancement of the existing merit service pension benefit for volunteer firefighters.

The board last week approved a recommendation from First Selectman Norman Needleman for a change to the town retirement plan to would specify that part time employees working less than 30 hours per week are not eligible for retirement benefits. Existing language in the town’s plan allows employees working as few as 20 hours per week to accrue some pension benefits. Needleman said the change would apply only to new part-time hires, not current part-time employees. The proposed change will be presented at a public hearing and subsequent town meeting vote on July 18 beginning at 6:45 p.m. in town hall.

Selectmen are also considering an enhancement of the merit service plan for volunteer firefighters that will be presented for approval by voters at a town meeting later this summer. Ethan Goller, a volunteer firemen who also serves on the appointed retirement board, told the selectmen last week the existing merit service plan has not been changed since it became effective in 1992.

The current plan provides a pension stipend of $15 per month for each year of volunteer service when a firefighter becomes fully vested in the plan after ten years of service. The maximum pension payment under the plan is set at $450 per month. Goller said the Essex plan has fallen behind the incentives offered to volunteer firefighters in other nearby towns, which have a shorter vesting requirement or a higher monthly benefit.

Goller requested increasing the multiplier in the merit service plan to $16.65 per month for each year of service with a maximum benefit limit of $500 per month. The enhancement would also be applied to a handful of retired volunteer firefighters currently receiving a pension payment. Selectmen agreed to discuss the proposal further at the board’s July 18 meeting.

Essex volunteer firefighters also receive a property tax abatement under a separate plan that reduces a portion of the annual property tax bill for an active volunteer who earns points under guidelines established by the volunteer fire company. The maximum tax relief provided under this plan is $1,000 off the annual property tax bill.

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