OLD SAYBROOK — The Board of Selectmen is considering hiring a consultant to study turnover at the police department after having received a variety of recommendations from the Police Commission and Chief Michael Spera suggesting increased pay and benefits for officers.
In a letter to First Selectman Carl Fortuna dated July 25, the Police Commission recommended that all police officers receive a $10,000 increase in salary, $10-15,000 sign-on bonuses for new officers and a “finder’s fee” for officers who bring in new recruits to the department. The commission also asked for an actuarial study to find out if it would be possible to reduce retirement age for police officers from 25 to 20 years, include a cost-of-living adjustment in the pension and include overtime in the calculation for the pension.
But in a meeting on Wednesday, Fortuna said that he wanted to be sure that pay and benefits are the reason for the high turnover in the department.
“I don’t doubt to some extent that the town is lacking in some of those areas, but I’m not sure that any town is perfect in all those areas,” he said.
Fortuna also warned that some of the proposals the chief and the commission had suggested could be “crazy expensive.” He pointed out that the cost of adding overtime into the pension calculator “could be a big number.”
Police Commission Chair Alfred “Chub” Wilcox said at the meeting that he felt the cost of the pay increases and hiring bonuses might save the town money.
“It costs so much to take a raw recruit, send them to the police academy, pay them salary for about six months, then have them for eight or 10 weeks on a ride around in their training. So by the time you’re all done, you’re spending $60,000 to get a recruit in,” said Wilcox. “If you can get a certified officer in for a lump-sum bonus in advance of one quarter of that cost — that seemed to us to make a lot of sense.”
Wilcox said he agreed with Fortuna that the town should be cautious about factoring overtime into police pensions.
“There are rumors of many communities where the older officers as they get close to retirement are given a lot of overtime to prop up their pension,” he said.
Fortuna noted that the department had done a turnover study that the Police Commission received in March of 2021.
“Since June of 22, we’ve lost 11 more officers. It’s a staggering amount of in and out. And I think we need to know — is it due to the pay?” he said. “It certainly, I think, begs the question — is that the only issue?
Fortuna said he had already been “getting some feelers” from consultants about potential ways to address the issue.
Selectman Matt Pugliese noted that the town was set to go into negotiations with the police officer’s union in July 2024, and that it would be good to have that information before then.
“I really do think that if we’re going to make this type of significant financial investment, we need to understand what the investment is,” said Pugliese. “But we also need to look at the whole situation, 360 degrees, so we understand … is the pay and benefits going to fix the issue, or are there other things that we need to look at?”