Palm Beach Daily News - - OPINION -

The de­ci­sion was the first of two coun­cil ap­provals needed be­fore the change takes ef­fect Jan. 1.

High em­ployee turnover has cre­ated a lack of ex­pe­ri­enced em­ploy­ees needed to fill man­age­ment posts with the town, Town Man­ager Kirk Blouin told the coun­cil. It is high­est in the Fire-Res­cue and Po­lice de­part­ments, where re­cruit­ment of new em­ploy­ees also is prov­ing dif­fi­cult, Blouin said.

“I feel the pain in the Po­lice De­part­ment and the lead­er­ship void,” Coun­cil­woman Bob­bie Lind­say said.

An ex­o­dus of pub­lic safety em­ploy­ees be­gan in 2012, when the town en­acted deep cuts to pen­sion ben­e­fits. Some ben­e­fits have since been re­stored, but the turnover per­sists.

“We have done ex­ten­sive suc­ces­sion plan­ning, but the sheer vol­ume of change has led to sig­nif­i­cant ex­pe­ri­ence gaps in our pub­lic safety de­part­ments,” Blouin said.

In the last six years, 70 po­lice of­fi­cers, in­clud­ing 12 who were su­per­vi­sors or man­agers, have left the de­part­ment.

Many of the new hires are leav­ing af­ter 18 to 24 months, he said. “We’re hir­ing peo­ple, and in fast suc­ces­sion they’re leav­ing us.”

Pay and ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing but not lim­ited to pen­sions, are be­ing cited by the of­fi­cers as rea­sons for the de­par­tures, Blouin said Fri­day. The town is pre­par­ing to study how its com­pen­sa­tion com­pares to other em­ploy­ers in the lo­cal mar­ket.

DROP started in 1998

The DROP has been of­fered to town em­ploy­ees since 1998. It al­lows em­ploy­ees who are el­i­gi­ble to re­tire to con­tinue work­ing for up to five more years. DROP par­tic­i­pants con­tinue to draw a salary and be­gin col­lect­ing re­tire­ment pay, which is de­posited into an ac­count and given to them in lump sum when they ac­tu­ally leave.

About half of the el­i­gi­ble em­ploy­ees opt for the pro­gram. The av­er­age DROP em­ployee stays in the pro­gram about three years, Blouin said.

There are 35 town em­ploy­ees in the DROP, in­clud­ing two de­part­ment di­rec­tors, five as­sis­tant di­rec­tors, five mid-level man­agers, eight first line su­per­vi­sors and three “highly spe­cial­ized” po­si­tions, ac­cord­ing to Blouin.

Of the 68 full-time fire-res­cue po­si­tions, 10 em­ploy­ees are in the DROP. Four of those — an as­sis­tant fire-res­cue chief, bat­tal­ion chief and two lieu­tenants — will be re­quired to leave next year un­der the ex­ist­ing pro­gram.

There are 68 sworn po­si­tions in the Po­lice De­part­ment. Five are in the DROP, in­clud­ing two cap­tains who will be re­quired to leave next year if the DROP isn’t ex­tended.

Within the last month, a po­lice sergeant and two se­nior po­lice of­fi­cers, all in the pro­gram, left, Blouin said.

Of the 231 gen­eral em­ployee po­si­tions, 20 are in the DROP — in­clud­ing a de­part­ment di­rec­tor, as­sis­tant de­part­ment di­rec­tor, three man­agers and four su­per­vi­sors, all of whom would leave the town in 2023 or be­fore un­der the five-year DROP limit.

To con­tain costs, the ex­tended DROP would be man­aged dif­fer­ently than the ex­ist­ing pro­gram. It would only be of­fered to em­ploy­ees in cases of an op­er­a­tional need and if the em­ployee is deemed qual­i­fied by Blouin. Each ex­tended DROP mem­ber­ship would have to be ap­proved an­nu­ally by Blouin.

Par­tic­i­pants would not be el­i­gi­ble for raises or bonuses, and would not con­tinue to ac­crue pen­sion ben­e­fits, Blouin said.

Higher costs

The ex­tended pro­gram would cost Palm Beach more money be­cause veteran em­ploy­ees are typ­i­cally paid more than their re­place­ments, who en­ter the same job at or closer to the bot­tom of the job’s pay scale.

Blouin said the higher cost would vary year to year, but he es­ti­mated it at about $47,000 on av­er­age.

The ex­tended DROP pro­gram would ex­pire in three years, on Jan. 1, 2022, un­less the coun­cil re­news it.

“We hope the need for it is go­ing to go away as turnover de­creases and peo­ple de­velop the ex­pe­ri­ence needed to as­sume higher lev­els of re­spon­si­bil­ity,” Blouin said Fri­day. “We can’t be sure when that will hap­pen. But three years seems like a good time to re­visit it.”

All five coun­cil mem­bers ex­pressed sup­port for the plan.

“It’s a crit­i­cal is­sue for our town,” Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Danielle Moore said. “Safety and se­cu­rity al­ways comes first.”

Even so, Moore and Coun­cil­woman Julie Araskog both dis­sented in Thurs­day’s 3-2 vote, say­ing they pre­ferred the coun­cil vote af­ter the plan is pre­sented to the union that rep­re­sents ap­prox­i­mately 40 town fire­fight­ers.

Act­ing Fire Chief Dar­rel Donatto said the plan was sent to a union rep­re­sen­ta­tive Fri­day.

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