The City Council on Tuesday tabled City Manager Jack Schnirman’s proposed resolution that would allow full-time management employees to leave or retire from the city after five years of service with full medical benefits, including for their families.
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Presently, these exempt employees, who are not covered under a collective bargaining agreement, are eligible for lifetime medical benefits on their retirement after 15 years of service with the city at age 55, or after 30 years of collective service. Schnirman proposes to amend the city’s code of ordinances to allow exempt employees with a total of 10 years of service — including a minimum of five years with the city and five years previously with the state, another municipality or the military — to collect lifetime medical benefits without an age requirement or the need to retire.
The proposal also calls for reducing the amount of benefits, including allowable accrued sick and vacation time, afforded to exempt employees, who otherwise contribute a portion of their healthcare costs, Schnirman noted.
“We’ve got less management here in Long Beach, and we’ve cut, cut, cut since we walked in the door, and we’re cutting further with this resolution,” he said.
Schnirman promoted the proposal as an effort to recruit and retain “talent” for exempt employees, who he said are without any job security and few of whom last more than five years in Long Beach, in contrast to members of the city’s various unions.
“Why would they take the risk that there is no job security as a management employee here,” Schnirman said of high-paid state employees who may consider taking management positions in Long Beach. “So it’s a very difficult proposition to recruit folks, as opposed to the labor force where they have a very secure situation.”
During the public comments on resolution, resident Kevin Heller said some potential employees may want a position in Long Beach simply because they know they can get paid well.
“As long as they’re here, they keep their job if they do a good job, and it goes on their resume if they move on to another job,” Heller said. “So they might see that as just an attractive job. Many people in the general workforce don’t have any job security.”
Schnirman also said the proposal, as it relates to defining qualified retirees, would bring the city in line with Nassau County and other municipalities, calling it a model that works in these municipalities and has bipartisan support throughout the region.
Eileen Hessien, a West Beech Street resident, said the proposal didn’t seem responsible, especially when the high cost of medical insurance is taken into account. “And if Nassau County is doing it, let’s look at Nassau County, which is not in great fiscal shape right now, right, for this type of reason,” she added.
If approved, the proposal would immediately take effect and apply to current exempt employees and those who were hired after Dec. 17, 2013. Presently, seven of the city’s 20 management employees would qualify for the proposal. Schnirman said the measure would not impact the current budget because it involves an “extremely small amount of employees who could some day, over a period of decades, retire.”
In March 2011, the Republican-majority City Council proposed a similar measure but that didn’t come to a vote, and which Councilman Len Torres was critical of at the time. On Tuesday, Torres asked Schnirman for a projected cost for his proposal, so that the city could answer constituents’ questions about it.
“How much is this going to cost us,” Torres said. “We’re not getting a dollar amount.”
Patrick McGuire, a West Hudson Street resident, who recalled the 2011 proposal, also asked Schnirman if he know how much his proposal was going to cost.
Schnirman told Torres that a cost estimate would involve “a lot of guess work,” and reiterated to McGuire the uncertainty involved, since currently it would affect seven employees who may leave at some point “between now and eternity,” he said.
John Wims, a West Chester Street resident, painted a scenario in which a person could serve in the military from ages 18 to 25, after which he could get hired as a manager and work for the city from ages 25 to 30, and then retire with lifetime medical benefits.
“Five years of service and then leave with free medical for the rest of your life — somebody has to pay for that and I don’t think right now, the way things are in the city, that we could afford to pay for that,” Wims said.City Council President Scott Mandel made a motioned to table the proposal for the Jan. 21 meeting, saying that there are “some variables here that we need to answer to.” His fellow council members voted to return to the proposal on that date.