OCEAN CITY — As the second veteran member of town government announced their retirement this week, it appears more changes to the face of local hierarchy are sure to be on the horizon in the next few months.
Town Finance Administrator Martha Lucey has been granted the task of sitting down with each of the 84 town employees who qualify for the town’s recently announced retirement incentive plan, and although she is unsure of who in fact will take the plan (as general employees have until March 31 to decide, public safety employees by June 30), she says that her job is to outline the pros and cons of each person’s “very different retirement options.”
“It’s different for everyone so far, and I still have a long way to go to sit down with everyone individually,” said Lucey. “What I have been a bit surprised about is that some people who are past the usual retirement age haven’t necessarily considered retirement yet, while others were already planning to retire when this plan was presented; so each case has been very different.”
When City Manager Dennis Dare laid out the retirement incentive plan a month ago, in which town employees could elect to retire and receive their full pension benefits immediately in hopes of reducing the town’s payroll costs and “right-sizing” the workforce, he proclaimed that the projected savings from this plan could be more than a million dollars the first year, and double that in future years.
While it is assumed that not all of the 84 candidates who have earned their pensions will be in a position to sign up for and take the town’s incentive plan for retirement, the town still feels the restructuring of government is crucial and is pleased with being able to offer this plan to its employees who have provided a careers’ worth of service.
“This is an offer to recognize and reward our employees for their service,” said Lucey. “We would rather reward someone who’s been working for the town for 35 years by offering this than cutting positions or laying off the most recently hired person. If we did that, we would be having bigger issues in a few years when these people would choose to retire anyway, so I think this is the best and most efficient way to decrease our workforce while having the least amount of impact.”
City Clerk Carol Jacobs and Human Resources Director Roger Weseman have elected to take the retirement incentive plan, and ironically, they would usually be the two people who would handle the task that Lucey is in the process of doing.
“Carol and Roger would be the ones that would usually do this, but obviously, they couldn’t run the program because they were eligible for it,” said Lucey.
Lucey said she is trying to handle all the candidates’ retirement concerns and questions on a case-by-case basis, as she notes that the traditional template for retirement in this country has changed drastically.
“The way people used to plan for retirement really doesn’t exist today, as many people have their plans changed with second and third marriages, or perhaps raising a grandchild, or supporting their aging parents,” said Lucey. “There will be people, especially in this economy, who won’t be able to retire right now. The American family is a bit different than perhaps what people think it is as demographics have changed drastically, and there is now no real clichés or patterns about any of this.”
Mayor Rick Meehan notes that Dare’s plan was a good recommendation.
“I think it’s a good thing to be able to offer our employees to take advantage of the pensions they’ve earned through years of service rather than reducing the workforce in other ways,” said Meehan. “In the case of [City Clerk] Carol Jacobs, she is being replaced internally by Kathy Mathias, who is extremely knowledgeable and will step in seamlessly to that position. Our government is going to change a little bit, but it is still going to run well for our citizens and visitors, so I think it’s an exciting time, despite the challenges.”
Some of those challenges that could be coming up the pike either in the short term, or further on up the proverbial road, is efficiency, as Lucey conceded that it’s only natural to conclude that less people doing a job, will not be able to do the work as quickly or as well as what was done before.
“When you add it all up, it might be cheaper, but it might not always be better in all cases,” said Lucey. “We are going to change how we work in government, and in restructuring and right-sizing, some of our services may slow a bit. We will be okay though, but it’s obvious that if you have less people, less things get done.”
Lucey points to advances in technology to tighten the potential gap created by a lesser town workforce, and noted that in this scenario, the way that the town is going to see substantial savings is by eliminating jobs after the posts have been vacated.
“You only save money when you eliminate jobs, so in the case of Kathy Mathias moving over to city clerk, her position has been eliminated so we see a savings there,” said Lucey. “Luckily, we have a lot more opportunities for seasonal work in this community than in other communities, but all of this is a reality of cost savings.”