Facing “early” retirement

KIMT News 3 – Pressure is mounting for area police and firefighters as new pension plans are forcing some to choose retirement much sooner.

New pension laws are set to impact all state police and fire departments.

“It does pay to stay longer, but you kind of get to that point in your career where you ask yourself, is the money worth it,” said Lt. Darren Hanson with the Albert Lea Police Department.

The penalties for retiring before 55 years old are increasing, from just over one percent per year to five percent.

Since pension plans for this line of work are enticing and the work is so grueling, many in the field tend to retire at a younger age.

According to Lieutenant Darren Hanson, police departments in our area are not seeing much of a drastic change but it can be a problem once you get to larger communities.

“With the police department, we’re not seeing the immediate effects of it. Officers that we have are more likely to be effected down the road. Instead of retiring before 55, a lot of them will be sticking it out,” said Hanson.

About 300 police and firefighters retire each year in the state, but by June 30th of this year, the deadline before the changes take effect. More than 600 are expected to call it a career.

“They wrestle with these decisions and it’s gonna be sad to see some of these good people leaving these positions, their longevity, their experience and all this is going to be missed,” said Brain Staska, Fire Training and Development Manager.

For Brian Staska, it’s a catch 22.

As a firefighter, he understands how difficult the decision may be, but as an instructor of young up-and-coming emergency responders, it’s an opportunity they can’t pass up.

“I’m seeing guys that would like to stay in and put in more years of service having to make difficult choices of, do I need to leave now and collect this amount of money or should I stay in and take some penalties,” said Staska.

As a fire and emergency response instructor, Brian admits that new students will benefit the most, but that our communities may lose experienced workers

“We don’t get enough calls nowadays, even some of the bigger cities don’t get enough calls and this experience is invaluable to some of these communities,” said Staska.

Lieutenant Hanson also mentions that no one is really happy with the changes being made, but they know it’s needed to ensure pensions are fully funded by the time they hope to retire.

We also reached out to law enforcement in Austin who say they are not experiencing issues with early retirement.

The Rochester Fire Department however, is set to have one of largest string of retirements in recent memory.

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