By DENISE COFFEY | HARTFORD COURANT
Canterbury’s and Thompson’s First Selectmen Christopher Lippke and Ken Beausoleil received some bad news from State Comptroller Kevin Lembo last week.
The towns’ contributions to the Connecticut Municipal Employee Retirement System will increase between 2 and 2.5 percent this year and up to 10 percent over the next five years.
CMERS is a public pension plan provided by the state for participating municipalities’ employees. It was started in 1947 and is governed by state statute.
Beausoleil wants changes made to the system that he says is handcuffing the town. Increases to the town contribution will have a significant impact on its budget. And there are no increases sought for employee contributions to the plan.
Thompson can’t make new retirement plans for new hires unless it withdraws all employees currently under CMERS and covers the full liability costs for all employees. It’s an all-in-or-all-out scenario he said.
“It’s a killer,” Beausoleil said.
Thompson wanted to go to a defined contribution plan years ago, but couldn’t. And towns can’t create new pension tiers for new hires. Any changes to CMERS have to be made by state legislators.
Gov. Ned Lamont has proposed an act that would gradually increase employee contributions over a 3-year period and recommend a new tier for CMERS modeled on the changes made to the State Employee Retirement System.
Beausoleil would be happy to testify on its behalf. He’s been calling for relief since 2012.
“The state needs to do something like they did for SEBAC,” he said.
SEBAC is the State Employee Bargaining Agreement Coalition. In 2017 SEBAC agreed to an increase in employee pension contributions, along with other concessions.
Lippke agrees. Canterbury’s projected increase will be about $21,000 to make up for shortfalls. The town will also have to factor in a pay increase starting July.
Canterbury has fewer than 10 full time employees in CMERS.
”We’re locked into the system,” Lippke said. “Most towns would have to bond or borrow money to buy their way out.”
Lippke said more towns will hire part time employees to avoid having to provide pension plans.
“What’s it’s doing is pushing towns like Canterbury and Thompson to go to part time employees,” Lippke said. “That’s where it hurts. You look at those full time jobs that provide benefits, long term security, and a decent place to work. That’s all going to go away, not because of something we want to do but because the state is making it unaffordable for us to continue.”
“Ten percent is a big hit to towns,” Beausoleil said. “It’s unsustainable.”