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Police are paid $20,000 to retire

August 15, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

Two high-ranking Hagerstown police officers were paid roughly $20,000 each to retire earlier this year, according to City Finance Department records.

Longtime city officials said it is believed to be the first time the city ever gave "severance incentives" to employees.

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Former Capt. Robert Voytko was paid a total of $112,870 for the 1999 fiscal year, which included his salary of $51,699, according to city records. The rest included $9,276 for unused vacation time, $31,030 for unused sick leave, and a severance incentive of $20,865.

During that same period, former Lt. Roy T. Hart was paid $106,253, including $7,450 for unused vacation time, $29,719 for unused sick leave, and a severance incentive of $19,983. His regular salary was $49,101.

Other payments for unused sick leave and vacation time included $11,293 to former Police Chief Dale J. Jones, who resigned in May, and former Police Sgt. Roger L. Powers, who received $10,154 after retiring earlier this year.

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City Councilman William M. Breichner, a former city administrator and head of the Water Department who began working for the city in 1956 as a junior draftsman, said to his knowledge the city never before offered an incentive to encourage employees to retire.

Breichner said that over the years the city has given bonus pay to several retiring employees. But those bonuses were given after the employees had given their notice of resignation or retirement, and were meant only to advance their announced final day. The bonuses were what the employee would have been paid if they stayed until their announced last day.

In the most recent situation, all eight police lieutenants and both police captains were offered money from the city in hopes that one or two would retire in order to trim spending.

Hart, a city police officer for more than 31 years, said he was planning to retire within the next year when the severance incentive offer was made in February.

"I approached them with a figure and they said OK," Hart said.

Hart and Voytko were the only employees to take advantage of the severance incentives. Their last day was May 15.

Voytko could not be reached for comment.

City Project Coordinator Austin Abraham, who was the acting manager of the Human Resources Department last year, said the severance incentive was a way to cut the number of positions in the department without layoffs.

"It was an attempt to smooth downsizing," Abraham said.

The two retirements were part of an overall plan to decrease the number of city positions to save money. Those plans included laying off Norma Parks, market master at the City Farmers Market.

Abraham said the situations were different because Parks was a part-time employee and the police officers were full-time employees.

The captain position has been filled by a promotion, but the lieutenant position will remain unfilled, saving the city $69,000 a year, he said.

The money to pay Voytko and Hart came from last year's budget, Abraham said.

"This was a special situation with the budget," Abraham said. "It was a one-time offer. There are no plans to do it again."

Breichner said the payments to Voytko and Hart were discussed and agreed to by the mayor and City Council during a closed session.

Other council members said the severance incentive was the right way to handle the situation.

"Layoffs would have been a slap in the face," Councilman J. Wallace McClure said.

Because the city will save money as a result of the retirements prompted by the incentives, the situation was a "win-win" for the city and employees, Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said.

While the severance incentives may have been a first, all employees are eligible to be paid for unused sick leave and vacation time when they stop working for the city.

The vacation-time payout is limited to the unused vacation days from the current year plus up to two weeks of unused vacation time from the previous year.

"This is something the employee has earned," Abraham said.

"It's something you earn and are entitled to," Breichner said.

City employees are permitted to accumulate up to 145 unused sick days for which they can receive payment upon termination of employment.

There are some limits on the unused sick leave pay based on length of employment and the union to which an employee belongs, Abraham said.

Employees who began working for the city before 1987 have no limit on the amount they can be paid in unused sick leave. In general, employees hired after 1987 can sell back up to $10,000 or $12,000 of unused sick leave.

"The ability to sell sick leave is an incentive not to use sick leave," Abraham said. "We benefit from their attendance on the job."

Over the past four years, unused sick leave and vacation time payments upon termination of employment have ranged from $100,945 in fiscal year 1996 to $225,121 in the 1998 fiscal year.

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