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Business and the Economy
News covering policy and issues related to city and county governments in the Ozarks.

Baby Boomer Retirements Affect City Operations

Springfield's historic City Hall building (Photo credit: KSMU)

For KSMU I’m Mike Smith, and this segment of our Sense of Community Series looks at the boom of Baby Boomer retirements and its effect on the City of Springfield. 

Bob Stephens is the Mayor of Springfield Missouri: “And what’s happening is those folks are hitting that age of 60-70 and are rolling out of the work force. The Baby Boomer generation was the largest bubble  of a generation to move through American history, if you will.  And because of the sheer size of that generation, the Baby Boomers, you are having a lot more jobs open up than you necessarily have qualified people coming along behind.” 

Mayor Stephens says a large number or retirements occurring within a relatively short amount of time can sometimes result in a loss of institutional knowledge and experience.  “Take for example, and this is just a hypothetical example, our Building Development Services Department, BDS.  This is a very small group but it’s very important to developers and builders and people who are making additions to their homes and things of that nature, and you’ve got someone in that job today that has been there for 20 years, they know all that.  Tomorrow or Monday you have a new employee, who isn’t familiar with Springfield, and they don’t have all that knowledge and it takes a while to catch up.  You see that dip or that lag in being able to service customers as rapidly because you’ve got someone in a training capacity instead of someone who has been there for 20 years and has most of that in their head.” From July 1st 2013 to the end of June of this year, 61 City employees retired from public service.  And of the 1,577 persons currently on the City of Springfield roster, 485 are 50 years of age or older.

Credit City of Springfield
Employees by age group - City of Springfield.

All departments are seeing a rise in retirements, but it’s felt most acutely in the Springfield Police Department. Paul Williams is Chief of Police for the City of Springfield: “In April I had 13 officers retire in that 1 month period.  It’s a huge loss.”  Williams says his officers have a couple of options when it comes to retirement, and many choose to do so at the earliest opportunity.  “We have a unique situation here with 2 pension plans.  The Police Fire Pension Plan is now a closed plan, but that’s what most officers  who are reaching retirement age are under.  We also have the newer employees who have come on the last 8 or 9 years who are in the LAGERS State pension plan which has different requirements. 

The Police Fire Pension Plan has a mandatory retirement at age 60.  But then there’s a couple other options to retire, with the first one there’s retirement with full pension after 25 years of service, and most folks certainly do that when they get there.  The 2nd option is when you have 20 years of service and at the age of 50, you can retire at a reduced pension benefit.  There’s a couple different options, but we’re kind of ham strung here with the Police Fire Pension’s mandatory retirement at age 60.  And as I’ve discovered since I’ve been here, very rarely do people stay past 25 years.  So if you come to the force in your mid 20’s or even 30, you’re looking to retire in your 50’s.  The new pension plan LAGERS, doesn’t have the mandatory retirement age, and I’ve told people  the next generation 20 years from now, people will be working 30, 35, 40 years, even in in law enforcement.”

Chief Paul Williams says Springfield Police officers are leaving the force at an average rate of 20-25 per year.  About half are retirees, the rest leave for other reasons.  But the average number of new officers hitting the streets after a 9 month training program is only 20.  “So were keeping pace with our attrition and we’re ramping up our efforts.  25 years ago the City ran 2 Academy classes a year instead of 1. Well, we’re getting ready to do that again. In 2015, I have a class scheduled for January and another for June to try to catch up a little bit.”

Meanwhile, other departments are facing similar retirement, recruitment and retention challenges and Springfield City Manager Greg Burris is working with the City’s Leadership team in developing various budget scenarios looking toward the future.  “We’re taking a look at the next 10 years and saying what does the next 10 years look like, and is our current budget model sustainable.  My goal is to release the 1st phase of that study by the end of this calendar year, and in that we will discover and share with citizens, here’s what we see as what we can continue to provide in the way of services.  And there may be some services that we say quite honestly we can’t sustain over the next 10 years unless we can get additional resources, and some of those services might have to go away. That’s what we hope to complete by the end of December, and at that point we will release it to City Council and the public at large.”