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Groton - The Groton City Council gave initial approval Monday to a modest increase in pension benefits for retirees.
The increase is based on 25 percent of the consumer price index and would translate into a boost of 0.375 percent for employees who have been retired for more than three years.
City Mayor Marian Galbraith said the increase would affect 89 retirees and cost the city $8,960.
"This is a very modest increase for retirees and allows them in some small way to keep up with the rising cost of living," she wrote in an email.
Galbraith said employees who retired in 2010 or earlier receive an average monthly benefit of $2,162, or $25,944 a year.
She said the pension increase, based on this average, would be $97.29 per year.
During the City Council meeting Monday, she said the increase had already been figured into the budget as the city had provided it for years. Every year since 2000, the City Council has provided a cost-of-living increase for those retired more than four years. That increase has been 25 percent of the consumer price index.
Councilor Jay Dempsey cast the only "no" vote, saying during an interview before the meeting, "The seven most expensive words are, 'That's the way we've always done it.' It's a tiny raise, but I'm not sure we should be giving raises on pensions anyway."
Dempsey said some retired city employees earn $80,000 a year in pension benefits, and the city recently took on substantial debt.
Last month, a unanimous vote of 30 people at a freeman's meeting cleared the way for the city to spend $34 million to upgrade and modernize its aging water treatment facility. The city plans to enter into an agreement with the state under the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and borrow money for the project.
"We have to be careful now," Dempsey said. "We can't just keep spending money."
But other councilors said numbers can be used to make all kinds of arguments, and city employees contribute to and depend on the pension plan.
Councilor Andy Ilvento said the city should be careful about how it treats people who have devoted their lives, or part of their lives, to serving the city.
He said, "$25,000 a year is not a lot of money. And to help people out, I'm all for it."
The increase received initial approval, but ordinances are always read twice. The second vote is scheduled for April 7.