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March 14, 2002
Rule Change Brings Mass Retirements
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waukee County in Wisconsin faces potential sick leave payouts of up to $5.8 million, as non-union employees rush to retire before Friday, when generous enhancements will be rescinded.

Twenty employees people signed up for retirement over the weekend, according to the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal, and three more joined them on Tuesday, bringing this year's total retirements to 184.

As a group, they have also requested about $18 million in lump sums from the county's pension fund.

The new retirees say their decisions are not only based on lost sick pay, but concerns about keeping their jobs in light of looming budget cuts and a new county executive.

"My concern is if I don't go, I lose the sick time benefit, but I'm not assured I'll have a job in three months," said Deputy Parks Director Greg Youngs, who qualifies for about $49,000 in sick-leave payments after 30 years on the job. "It's a real concern for a lot of people out there."

The Sentinel Journal explains that Youngs is among dozens of appointed administrators who serve at the pleasure of department heads, who themselves serve at the pleasure of the county executive.

The retirement rush started in early January when officials announced plans to try to take back generous retirement benefits passed in November 2000.

The take-backs were prompted by strong public reaction to news stories about the details of the benefits. For instance, former County Executive F. Thomas Ament and other top officials stood to collect partial pension payouts in excess of $1 million, and some employees could take more than $100,000 in unused sick leave.

The County Board voted Feb. 21 to end cash payouts for 100 percent of unused sick leave at retirement. A prior rule will return: Pre-1994 employees can take cash at retirement for 400 hours of unused sick leave, plus 16 of every additional 100 hours.

The change applies only to non-union workers. More than 90 workers stood to lose $25,000 or more from the switch.

The 184 retirements since January approach the 200 to 250 normally seen for an entire year, and that has meant long hours at the county's Employee Retirement Division, the Sentinel Journal reports. Many of the eight staffers there are working 12- and 14-hour days, sometimes as long as 13 days straight.

To view the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal article, click here.

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