Former Mt. Joy police chief retires early BY K. SCOTT KREIDER, Correspondent
Sgt. John O'Connell, who until recently was Mount Joy police chief, is retiring, prompting officials to discuss related post-employment costs facing the borough.
O'Connell submitted a letter to the borough March 25 announcing his retirement, saying he was offered a private security position.
Borough council approved his retirement last week, effective April 10.
Also, council members agreed to address the borough's liability for health care costs of retirees at the next administrative and finance committee meeting on April 24.
"I commend (O'Connell) for his years of service to the community and thank him," council president Chris Metzler said.
O'Connell, 47, declined to say last week where he was going.
He said he recently sent out seven applications and got three job offers within a week.
"Finally, something positive is happening," he said.
Metzler said borough council hasn't decided whether to replace O'Connell.
On Jan. 28, O'Connell was demoted to sergeant for failure to "meet administrative expectations of the position" of police chief.
Before that, he had been on paid administrative leave for more than six months for undisclosed reasons.
During that period the borough's legal counsel "conducted a thorough investigation of all concerns and allegations," according to a statement released by council.
"While the overwhelming majority of the concerns raised were unfounded, there were nevertheless certain issues concerning internal procedures which needed to be addressed," the statement read.
O'Connell declined to elaborate on what had happened and called his move from chief to sergeant a "reassignment" agreed to by him and the borough, not a demotion.
"Everything is going so well, I don't need to rehash all that," he said.
O'Connell is eligible for early retirement based on his nearly 27 years of service at the borough. Because he is retiring early, he will not receive full pension benefits. But the borough will continue to pay full healthcare benefits, prompting some council members to question what post-employment benefits the borough is contractually obligated to pay.
His pension figure won't be determined until an actuarial study is completed, borough manager Scott Hershey said.
"If an officer retires early, they get a smaller percentage of their pension," council member Joshua Bower said at the meeting. "So the same should apply to healthcare. They shouldn't get full healthcare benefits if they retire early."
Bower said that kind of cost was difficult to plan for in a budget because borough officials couldn't predict if an officer would retire early.
Metzler said "(the contract) doesn't say that we don't pay it, but it also doesn't say that it's not offered."
"I think we need to re-evaluate that," Bower replied.
O'Connell's retirement, along with the approaching retirement of several other senior officers, prompted council to discuss the approaching $4.5 million expense of post-employment benefits.
Although payment of the $4.5 million unfunded liability may be phased in over the next 20 years, Metzler said that because the borough expects to see several officers retire in the next five years, the cost would need to be addressed sooner.
"This has accumulated over time but this is what it is today," Metzler said at the meeting. "This is the obligation we have today. And we're going to have this bill shortly."
Council member William Hall said the borough had not been setting money aside to pay for those benefits because there was no formula to predict how much to set aside.
"This is not unusual. Just a few years ago, no governments recognized this," said borough auditor Carol Roland from Trout, Ebersole & Groff. "When the benefits were awarded, nobody went out and had an actuarial evaluation done to say, '(do) you know if we give this to our police officers what's it going to cost?'"
"It's only going to get worse because healthcare costs are going up," Hall added. "The other thing is healthcare improvements cause people to live longer, which causes us to pay those benefits for a longer period."
Staff writer Dan Nephin contributed to this report.
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