SEABROOK — The recent signing of employment contracts for fire and police chiefs have some concerned about the size of their salaries compared with those who served before them.
Contracts approved and signed by all three selectmen and Town Manager Joe Titone show annual salaries for fire Chief Everett Strangman at $95,000 and police Chief Lee Bitomske at $105,000. Both salaries are more that those of the men who formerly held the positions before their retirements. Retired police Chief Pat Manthorn earned $82,400 in 2011, according to the Town Report, and retired fire Chief Jeff Brown earned $89,900.
But according to Titone, who negotiated the salaries, the new contracts with Stangman and Bitomske also include an important new measure that should save taxpayers money in the future in the form of an 800-hour cap on the amount of unused annual leave both men can cash in when they retire. There was no such cap on prior contracts with the police and fire chiefs, Titone said.
The new contracts prevent the practice known as “pension spiking,” Titone said, which occurs when longtime police or fire employees accrue huge amounts of unused leave days, then cash out right before they retire to inflate their annual pension.
A well-publicized example of pension spiking occurred last year, Titone said, when Portsmouth’s police chief, Lou Ferland, retired and cashed out more than $84,000 of accumulated leave. The move inflated Ferland’s last year’s salary figures used to calculate pensions. The result earned him an annual pension of about $97,000, which Portsmouth taxpayers will help fund.
Both Strangman and Bitomske said they were aware prior to negotiating their salaries with Titone that town officials wanted to limit their leave cash-out capacity.
“I knew they wanted to stop the bleeding and have the chiefs sign contracts that would eliminate the ability to accumulate unlimited amounts of leave at the end of our tenure so we couldn’t spike our pensions,” Bitomske said. “The cap will save taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars for years and years to come.”