May 9, 2021

Essex Town Meeting Approves Volunteer Firefighter’s Pension Upgrade

ESSEX— Voters at a town meeting Wednesday gave unanimous approval to an upgrade in the town’s merit service retirement plan for volunteer firefighters that will increase the monthly pension stipend for both current and future retirees.

About 30 residents, many of them members of the Essex Volunteer Fire Department, turned out for the town meeting to approve the most generous of two options that were presented by the board of selectmen at a public hearing that preceded the town meeting. First Selectman Norman Needleman said the board decided to let voters at the town meeting decide whether to approve the increase in the pension stipend for only the 40 current active volunteers receiving credited service under the plan, or to also extend the increase to the 16 retired participants currently receiving benefits and five non-active former volunteers not currently receiving benefits.

The merit service plan first adopted in 1992 provides a pension stipend of $15 per month for volunteers with ten or more years of service. The upgrade would increase the pension stipend to $16.65 per month for each year of service after the initial 10-years vesting requirement. The plan had total assets of $610,460 as of June 30, with the town contributing $69,922 to the plan in the current 2012-2013 budget.

In a straw vote requested by meeting moderator Alvin Wolfgram, the group was unanimously in favor of extending the new $16.65 per month pension multiplier to all qualified current volunteers and current retirees, with the higher multiplier also applied to past years of credited service. Voters then approved the change on a unanimous voice vote.

The enhancement will increase the town’s annual contribution to $95,182 in the 2014-2015 budget year. The town contribution is projected to increase to a maximum of $104,600 in 2018-2019, and then decrease in subsequent years.

Voters at the town meeting also approved an amendment to the retirement plan for town police to include a provision allowing for a negotiated resolution of disputes related to any employee retirement. Needleman said the plan currently has no provision for resolution of disputes, forcing any possible disputes between the town and an employee to move directly to a superior court lawsuit. The new provision would allow the board of selectmen to attempt to negotiate a settlement to any possible dispute that can not be resolved by the appointed retirement committee.

The call of the town meeting had also included a resolution amending the retirement plan for all town employees to include the new dispute resolution provision. But the third resolution on the town meeting agenda was withdrawn after Needleman announced the union representing town highway department employees had asked for more time to review the new provision. Needleman said a resolution to include the dispute resolution provision in the retirement plan for all employees would be on the agenda for a future town meeting.