LORAIN — The city administration is planning on taking its first dig at the Police and Fire departments in an effort to balance the 2016 budget.
In an ordinance that is expected to be heard by Lorain City Council at its regular meeting Monday, a compulsory or mandatory retirement age of 57 years old will be set for the city’s safety forces.
“According to state and federal law, compensatory retirement can take place beginning at age 55,” Lorain Safety-Service Director Dan Given said. “Members of the Police and Fire departments can be hired in at anywhere between 18 and 35 and 18 to 40, respectively. So it makes sense that there’s an age in which they can retire.”
Given said there are employees in both departments who are older than 60, and two employees are 69 and 70. Five firefighters and one police officer would be affected.
Mayor Chase Ritenauer said Cleveland has a similar policy with the members of their safety forces and that Lorain’s budget situation of the city caused the administration to come to this solution.
“We need to look at the reality of our situation and what this could mean from us budgetwise,” he said. “There are going to need to be layoffs. But do we want to lay off the younger people and have a staff of only older people that are on their way to retirement in a few years anyway?”
City Human Resources Director Ed Zaborniak said quite a bit of research went into drafting the proposal for the ordinance.
“The Law Department, and outside lawyers as well, vetted the idea and all of its parts before it was even drafted into a complete ordinance, “ he said. “We didn’t want it to be considered ageist but there is a caveat in the ageism laws that allow for exceptions for safety forces.”
Zaborniak said the measure is expected to save the city $150,000 to $200,000 this year.
“While it’s definitely not the whole budget, it’s a fairly large amount that will help get the city back on track,” Zaborniak said of the savings in comparison to Lorain’s $2.3 million budget deficit. “It’s in the best interest of the city to adopt something like this.”
Zaborniak said the cost should take some of the burden off of the general fund, but it would primarily open up management positions for other people in the department.
However, the vice president of the International Fire Fighters Association Local No. 267 in Lorain, Bret Brown, said the union was totally against the potential policy.
“We need to be making temporary adjustments instead of big, sweeping policy changes,” Brown said. “A measure like this is going after our highest-paying employees, our assistant chiefs. It’s some of the most important experience.”
Brown said that while he understands that this is a rough year for the Lorain budget, he believes there are other departments that should have cuts as well, instead of just going straight for police and fire.
“For one, the civil service law says we can hire until age 40,” Brown said. “If we hire someone in at 40 then that means they only get 17 years of service in before they’re forced to retire and they won’t get a full pension. They’d have to work until 65 to get the full thing.”
Brown said if the city would consider a higher age, the IFFA would at least consider having a discussion with the city administration about it.
“Frankly, [the ordinance] would need to be considered without an emergency,” he said. “We have a problem with them trying to push it through fast. It keeps the public out of what’s going on. The city’s been pretty up front with us about the possibility of layoffs but this never really came up before.”
Brown said the fire department wasn’t notified of the ordinance until it was sent to them at 3:30 p.m. Thursday.
“I just hope the city considers all of their options here,” he said. “By doing this, you’re forcing out a lot of experience in a department that badly needs it. The more knowledgeable a department is the better off we’re going to be.”
Lorain Fraternal Order of Police president Kyle Gelenius was unavailable for comment.
The measure is expected to be discussed before city council Monday night and Given said he expects a “spirited” discussion.
“There’s definitely going to be a pushback from the unions and probably from the public as well, but I really think this is the right move,” Given said.
Ritenauer said City Council is going to need to think long and hard about the measure before it out right says no.
“They need to think about what direction we want to take the departments,” he said. “Do we want to lay off younger people? I don’t think so. It allows for more shifting in the department of younger people, putting them in leadership roles and things like that, where they can do good.”
Zaborniak said while turnover in the departments further down can be good, the chiefs will be exempt from the new policy due to the fact that they are stabilizing figures during the budget crisis.
“The remainder of the departments will be in flux after something like this,” he said. “And while other city departments won’t have this particular policy, they’ll be facing budget challenges as well.”