Measure aims to allow cops to retire earlier By Claude Marx and Stephanie Chelf Staff writers The police union wants lawmakers to let them retire earlier and reduce some of the stress in their lives. City and town leaders say they are thankful for these sacrifices, but fear the added benefits from early retirement will strain their already overburdened budgets. The debate will come to a head next year when lawmakers consider a measure sponsored in the House by Rep. Michael Costello, D-Newburyport that would allow local police officers to retire after 25 years of service with 75 percent of their salaries. They can currently retire with 80 percent of their salaries after 33 years. Police unions say their members are not primarily concerned about the money. "This will give them a chance to have a less stressful life after they finish being a policeman. This is a job that wears on you physically and emotionally," said Larry Crosman, a trustee for the Massachusetts lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police. Massachusetts State Police officers already have the benefit while state and county corrections officers are eligible to retire at 50 percent of their pay after 20 years. In New Hampshire, police officers can retire at 50 percent of their salary if they are at least 45 years old. David Baier, legislative director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said the bill would "create an expensive benefit without regard to the costs." He added that communities would be forced to pay the salaries and health insurance expenses for new police personnel while still funding health insurance for young retirees not yet old enough to receive Medicare. Police officers in the Bay State earn an average annual salary of $50,000, not including overtime and detail work, according to the Massachusetts Police Association. Pensions are based on the highest three years of salaries. Newburyport Auditor Bill Squillace said the impact of the bill would result in higher costs, but it would vary depending on the individual retiring. "It would be more of an expense," Squillace said. "It can be significant." The city will pay $2.46 million this year into its retirement fund, Squillace said. That costs is expected to rise next year to $2.7 million. Newburyport Police Lieutenant Richard Siemasko said local police have been waiting for pensions to be in line with those of the state police. "We pray for that every year," Siemasko said. "It's better to retire a little earlier. That would be great (if the bill) went through." Three city officers — Marshal Thomas Howard, Lt. Robert Gagnon, and Officer Donald Hall — have 25 years of service, Siemasko said. The Massachusetts Police Association, which lobbies the Legislature on police issues and supports the bill, estimates that between 10 percent and 15 percent of the state's approximately 19,000 municipal police officers have 25 or more years of service. Association spokesman James Machado predicted that few officers would retire during their first year of eligibility. He noted that only about 2 percent of corrections officers retire after 20 years of service. Costello is sponsoring the measure in the House and Rep. Joyce Spiliotis, D-Peabody, is a co-sponsor. Neither returned telephone calls seeking comment on the issue. Sen. Joan Menard, D-Somerset, is the bill's main sponsor in that chamber and Sen. Thomas McGee, D-Lynn, has introduced a measure that would require the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission to conduct a study of the costs of changing the retirement rules. Shawn Feddeman, spokeswoman for Gov. Mitt Romney, said the administration has taken no position on the bills, but would review them if they are passed by the Legislature. Menard's spokesman, Kevin Conlon, said that by allowing older officers to retire early "it makes for younger police forces," and communities would save money because older officers tend to retire on disability more often. Baier said his organization supports McGee's measure because "I'm in favor of more information for everybody." He opposes a rule change that would solely benefit police department employees without a comprehensive overhaul of the retirement system. Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, agreed that the retirement system needs to be changed so it becomes less expensive and is more in keeping with other states. "I can understand why the police would want to get it, especially if you look at what other public employees get and what those at the upper level of the University of Massachusetts get. But to the average taxpayer, all these pensions seem very high. They can't even fantasize about the pensions you get in the public sector. People in many private industry jobs can't retire until they are 66 under new Social Security rules," she said.