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Miami Springs faces staffing crisis with 20 percent retiring


Special to the Miami Herald

Start polishing up your résumés! The small city of Miami Springs — population 14,000 — has confirmed that 24 of its 119 full-time workforce are ready to “drop.”

The Deferred Retirement Option Program, or DROP, allows employees to technically retire but continue working while banking their pension.

And they have banked like squirrels. The annual pension benefit for this cohort will total $1,101,525.20, records show.

The yearly total might have been higher, but for some of the employees choosing “survivor benefits.”

“If the retiree dies, the wife will continue to receive the benefit,” said finance director William Alonso. “This option results in a lower monthly retirement payment.”

For example, Pete Baan, who earns $137,970 a year as the police chief, has selected a survivor benefit that will reduce his pension benefit to about $11,000 per month, according to the city.

“These runaway pensions are a major issue that has to be addressed in the upcoming budget season,” said Mel Johnson, a former council candidate. “If not, it is a dereliction of duty by our city leaders.”

Aside from the pensions, Johnson questions whether the city has a viable succession plan in place other than hiring the same employee back at an hourly rate while they collect a “fat” pension.

Johnson pointed to city clerk Magali Valls, who will retire on July 5 from her $104,463-a-year seat and start work again the next day earning $50 an hour. Valls’ gig would max out at $76,700 per year, records show, while she draws her $4,065.25 a month for life.

Though deputy city clerk Suzanne Hitaffer would be the “lead candidate” for Valls’ seat, according to City Manager Ron Gorland, she has “just a little over two years left as an employee.”

Hitaffer, who earns $67,167 annually, is in the DROP and has an exit date of April 30, 2016.

“It would be unnecessarily disruptive to make another city clerk change in such a short period,” Gorland told leaders at a June 10 city council meeting.

Hitaffer, like the other 22 employees in the DROP, can leave at any time. Valls chose to leave three years before her official exit date, which caught the city off-guard.

Starting next year, Johnson feels that these departures could cause seismic disruptions. Especially when the city’s $92,144-a-year human resources director, Loretta Boucher, officially retires.

However, Gorland insists that he has been “deep into succession planning” since becoming city manager last year.

“You’ve already seen some of the results and will see more over time,” wrote Gorland in an email to the Miami Herald. “The DROP timeline provides ample opportunity for our succession planning to achieve our target, which is a new, streamlined cadre of hungry, results-oriented managers combining the best practices of government and the private sector.”

“Our Miami Springs residents, property owners, business operators and city employees deserve no less,” Gorland said.

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