9 Investigates the growing cost of retiring government employees

Over the next five years, a quarter of all Brevard County employees will be eligible to retire.  It’s part of what some call the “silver tsunami” as baby boomers prepare to leave the workforce.

Channel 9 investigative reporter Karla Ray looked into how this will impact taxpayers across Central Florida as some of those employees will collect big checks on their way out the door.

Many “boomers” working for local governments have worked their way up and earned a substantial amount of sick and leave time, for which they will be paid a portion upon retirement. Aside from that, there is a wealth of institutional knowledge area counties stand to lose.

“It’s difficult, and there are issues there in figuring out how you prepare to get ready for that,” Brevard County Human Resources Director Jerry Visco said. “We routinely look down the road at what we’re facing, as far as projected turnover.”

Those retirements can be costly. Over the last five years, taxpayers in Orange, Brevard, Volusia and Seminole Counties have paid a total of more than $21 million to retirees who didn’t use all their sick or vacation days.

In Lake County alone, if all employees currently eligible to retire left right now, it would cost taxpayers more than $788,000.

“Sooner or later, taxpayers are going to get fed up with it,” UCF Department of Management professor Benjamin Rockmore said.

Those benefits are earned and are not a surprise. The oldest “boomers" have been eligible to retire for several years. Rockmore said many waited due to the recession.

“Then, boomers were losing 40, 50, 60 percent of their 401K accounts. They’re thinking, I can’t retire now, economically,” Rockmore said.

Although longtime workers will likely be replaced with lower-paid employees, Visco said that actually may not benefit taxpayers.

“There will be some dollar savings, but the loss of institutional knowledge, the regrowth of the organization, there are trade-offs there,” Visco said.

The Brevard County HR Department runs an Executive Leadership Institute to help grow talent from within.

Each county has a different calculation for how much retiring employees can collect on their unused sick and leave time. In some places, including Brevard, it varies depending on employee hire date.