The Legislative Council Monday approved Mayor Scott Jackson's retirement incentive package proposed to plug a $1.2 million hole in the current year's budget that otherwise would likely have led to more than 50 town employees losing their jobs.
About 25 employees are thought to have accepted the incentive, which was offered to all employees except those in the police and fire departments. The council voted 6-4 to accept the incentive program, with four council members absent Monday.
"The retirement program saves the town $1.2 million this year," Chief Administrative Officer Curt Balzano Leng said. "Without such a program we would have had to make the deepest layoffs in the history of Hamden -- over 50 town employees, including police and fire personnel, would have lost their jobs. This would have had a devastating effect on town operations and people's personal lives.
"The end result of the approved program is a town with a smaller government, a reduction in personnel costs that we realize immediately and for years to come," he said.
Shepard Avenue resident George Levinson once again urged the council to reject the package.
"Today marks the last critical vote in implementing the most irresponsible budget this town has ever seen," he said. "You are balancing the budget on the backs of the taxpayers and somehow through all this the town is continuing to treat its workers in an extraordinary fashion with benefits that should have been changed years ago."
And now, he said, it is giving retiring workers "a glorious good-bye kiss."
Several council members also said they couldn't support the incentive.
"I still don't feel comfortable," said Councilman Harry Gagliardi. "We still don't have exact numbers from the administration, and the budget is not in deficit yet and won't be until June. I'm not sure this is the best thing for the town."
"I was wholeheartedly in favor of of it when looking at the number first given to me, but after reexamining it I'm not convinced it's a good thing for the town and I'm not convinced that there are dollars to be saved," said Councilman Tom Rousseau.
Initially, the council was told that without the incentive, about 15 employees would have to be laid off, Councilman Jack Kenelly said. Then that number rose to 20, then 30, then 40 and then 54, he said.
"I'm not assessing blame," he said, but if during budget deliberations, "the magnitude of layoffs was known to us, other fund sources would have been explored.
"Like has already been mentioned, we're not in deficit yet," he said, and it is likely that the money could be found elsewhere before the end of the fiscal year without having to resort to a retirement incentive plan.
"This is not a totally perfect picture but I'm voting for it to avoid layoffs," said Councilman Michael Colaiacovo Jr. "That would be a labor disaster."
"I didn't support the budget because it had the $1.2 million hole," said Councilman-at-Large Austin Cesare, "but now we have to deal with it and it is imperative that we deal with it, and this is a very good step.
"But we have to look very closely at not adding back these jobs," he said.
"I won't vote in favor of this because we are not the town that lays the golden egg," said Councilman-at-Large Berita Rowe-Lewis. "We cannot afford these pensions and at this point we have to be responsible"
But with four council members -- John DeRosa, Betty Wetmore, Al Gorman and Christopher Hennigan -- absent, the remaining 10 members voted 6-4 to approve the incentive, which the town unions already have approved and about 25 employees have already decided to take.
Gagliardi, Rousseau, Kennelly and Rowe-Lewis voted against the incentive plan, while council members Colaiacovo, Cesare, Ozzie Brown, Kath Schomaker, Scott Harris and Carol Noble voted in favor of it.