Local News

State crackdown stymies retirement plans of Raleigh workers

Posted September 4, 2009 6:14 p.m. EDT
Updated September 7, 2009 9:02 p.m. EDT

— Imagine you were getting ready to retire, only to find out that the rules have changed without warning. That's exactly what's happening to hundreds of employees of the City of Raleigh.

Late last week, the state decided to enforce a rule about sick time that the city has been skirting for years.

Mayor Charles Meeker expressed the concern of city leaders. "This is a benefit the employees have worked for and earned and they ought to get," he said.

City leaders are outraged, but state leaders say the law is the law. According to that law, sick time accrued on a monthly basis may be used toward retirement. However, Raleigh allots some sick time not monthly but at intervals -- three months after three years of service, another three months after 15 years of service, and six months after 25 years of service.

In a career, a city employee can bank up to a year to use in retirement. Effective Aug. 1, the state declared that practice illegal. Some employees looking forward to taking it easy may have to work for another year.

Cynthia Rubens was planning to retire Jan. 1 after 28 years as a Raleigh firefighter. Rubens, 52, said, "The adrenaline just doesn't carry me that far, that long, any more."

She sold her car, and bought a home farther from the city. Now, she have to make a longer commute for another year.

Leaders with the Department of the State Treasurer, which oversees retirement services, said they first learned about Raleigh's rule in July.

"I feel badly about it, but I don't have much choice, said Michael Williamson, state director of retirement services.

"When it comes to my attention that there's a policy out there that differs with the state statutes, I have to act with what the General Assembly has directed me to do," he said.

Leaders of both city and state plan to meet next Friday to see if they can work out a compromise. If they can't, a change may have to wait until it can be considered by the General Assembly. In the interim, the state has agreed to grandfather in anyone who has already retired. They will not lose the benefit.