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'Golden Handshakes' a possibility

By: Brandon Darnell, News Messenger Reporter
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City Council unanimously voted to take the first step to offering “Golden Handshake” retirement incentives Tuesday. The incentive could prevent further layoffs of city staff, as the city would be able to save money through the deal. “I don’t foresee any layoffs in the police department,” Police Chief Brian Vizzusi said. “We took care of that and streamlined our operations earlier this year.” A Golden Handshake means that city employees who are at least 50 years old and have been in CalPERS – a state-run retirement plan – for at least five years could get the option to retire early, with an extra two years of service credit. That means that a 50-year-old employee taking the deal would effectively be retiring as if he or she were 52 years old, said councilwoman Linda Stackpoole. Retiring at later ages typically means more retirement pay, according to Stackpoole. “And we save a lot of money,” Stackpoole added. By enticing some employees to retire early and leaving their positions empty, it could save other employees from layoffs, said City Manager Jim Estep, who added that about 10 of the city’s approximately 200 employees would be eligible. “I think this is a good thing for us given economic times and is a way to save the jobs of those who are further from retirement,” Mayor Spencer Short said. Typically, public safety is most affected by Golden Handshake deals, according to Debbie Lindh, the city of Lincoln’s human resources manager. But that’s not the case in Lincoln. The fire department has no employees old enough to qualify, said Fire Chief Dave Whitt. The police department has two employees who could potentially take an early retirement but both positions would need to be filled, said Vizzusi, who added that the Golden Handshake idea is good. Lincoln residents had mixed feelings on the Golden Handshake idea. “I think that’s a reasonable option for people,” said resident Kevin Anderson. “We pay for it but we also benefit from it.” Christina Harmon, who lives in Lincoln near the Auburn border, said the offering of a Golden Handshake is wrong. “They ought to cut the council payrolls and leave staff on,” Harmon said. “They’re really overpaid.” According to Short, council members are paid $600 per month, plus health benefits. A Golden Handshake is not unique to the city of Lincoln, Lindh said. Roseville’s City Council made a similar offer to its employees and 12 took the offer. With an average salary of $70,000 per year, it equates to more than $800,000 in savings if the employees are not replaced, Lindh said. The dollar amount Lincoln could save is not yet known, as the first step for staff to take will be to identify which departments will be offered the deal, Lindh said. Those recommendations are likely to come back to City Council in September and, if approved, be implemented in 90 to 180 days. “That tells you that a lot of other cities are taking the same action,” Stackpoole said. Brandon Darnell can be reached by e-mail at brandond@goldcountrymedia.com.