Trumbull approves $40,000 pension study

Trumbull Police headquarters

Trumbull Police headquarters

Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

TRUMBULL — The town will move forward with an analysis of possible changes to the town's pension program, as the town council has approved funding such a study.

At its Jan. 5 meeting the panel voted to allocate $40,000 to hire a consultant to "review strategies to deal with recruitment and retention issues," according to a letter sent by Trumbull human resources director Thomas McCarthy to the Board of Finance chair in November. The consultant's duties would include looking at potential changes to "current and future employees' retirement benefits."

The council vote was the next step to moving the project forward, after the Board of Finance voted last month to allocate the money for the study. 

About eight years ago, the town changed its pension plan from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan. Officials from the town's police department have cited the change as a major reason why it has a difficult time hanging onto police officers.

Police Chief Michael Lombardo has said in the past that multiple officers have left Trumbull for departments with a defined benefits plan. During the public comment portion of the the council meeting, Robert Coppola, past president of Trumbull's police union, spoke about the retention problems the department has faced.

"Our police department is at a critical staffing level," he said.

He the department is authorized for 82 police officers and, though four new recruits are now at the police academy, the department is still well below that. Prior to the hiring of the new officers, Coppola said, the department had 68 officers.

That has meant not only have some officers had to be moved from special assignments (including traffic and school resource officers) to fill in gaps in the department's patrol division, but that officers often have to work up to 16 hours at a time to cover shifts, Coppola said.

"I speak to my (union) members every day and they speak to me every day and the amount of time we are working is nothing that most people would want to do," he said. "The morale is terrible. Officers don’t know if they are going to go home after eight hours or if have to stay for 16."

Coppola said one reason way the department is down staff is the lack of a defined benefits package, and he urged the council to vote to fund the consultant.

According to the letter from McCarthy, the town has chosen USI Consulting Group to provide the analysis. The firm has quoted the town a price of $29,000 for the initial scope of service, but McCarthy was requesting $40,000 to "allow the original analyses and contingencies for further work 
based on their initial report."

During the council meeting, minority leader Carl Massaro, Jr. asked McCarthy if the lack of a defined benefits plan had the same chilling effect on hiring on the town side as it has on the police department.

McCarthy said it has definitely had an impact.

"There is an extremely difficult and competitive hiring environment right now everywhere, and we’re facing that," he said.

Ultimately, the council voted to approve the funding, and to pass it as emergency legislation, which means it can go into effect right away.