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Erie County is letting 28 employees retire early, with pensions enriched by as much as 6 percent, but this is only a fraction of the early retirements of just a few years ago, when a hundred or more employees would disappear at a time.

In 1997, for instance, 126 employees retired early.

County Budget Director Kenneth C. Kruly said the latest round will save the county about $900,000 in the coming year. He also said that it is time to cut back on the annual early option, allowing a window of opportunity only every second, third or fourth years.

"This early retirement thing has probably been offered more than it should," said Kruly. "It sort of wears out its welcome. We've eliminated so many positions in the county that some deparments cannot take a new hit."

Currently, there are 6,800 full-time employees.

The 28 workers who retired early all left by Sept. 10. Last week, Erie Community College received County Legislature permission to consider early retirement for 33 employees, including 13 professors now earning as much as $64,000 each. Those accepted will leave by Dec. 26.

William H. Reuter, ECC's chief administrative and financial officer, said the college's savings on a single professor could range from $25,300 to $18,300 annually in the next five years alone. Professors would be replaced by instructors, with annual savings decreasing as instructors' salaries rise.

Savings are not as dramatic in clerical jobs, so it is possible that ECC would not retire some who would like to go, he said.

County Personnel Commissioner Leonard H. Lenihan said 13 of the 28 employees allowed to retire will not be replaced. Lenihan's department has lost two clerks and is temporarily not replacing them.

"Both jobs will be vacant for an extended period," Lenihan said. "If we're not going to eliminate a job, we leave it vacant for a while and hire a new person at a lower job step."

The pension boost for early retirement is an appropriate reward for outstanding workers approaching retirement age, Lenihan said.

The best known of the departing employees is First Deputy County Clerk David B. Kelly, who's in charge of the registrar's office. Kelly is a former president of the Buffalo Board of Education. He earned $88,000 a year and will be replaced by someone who will earn at least $16,000 less, County Clerk David J. Swarts said.

Kelly, a county clerk administrator for more than 12 years, is a longtime public employee who started work in the comptroller's office in 1970. He became senior administrative assistant in the Parks Department and later was deputy mayor to the late Stanley M. Makowski. He also was vice president of Cablescope, predecessor of TCI, in its early years here.

Kruly said that in the case of Kelly, a lesser position is earmarked for long-term vacancy to cover the cost.

The Health Department lost two slots formerly held by Dr. Donald DeRose, part-time dental director, and Joseph Rautenstrach, personnel supervisor. Two other administrators are taking over their duties without a pay hike, department spokesman Leo Nadler said. The salaries of the two clearly will be saved, Nadler said.

Social Services, the largest county department, lost 10 to early retirement.

In the past, the county sometimes quickly rehired a departing administrator part time. Edward Kumrow, who earned $71,155 a year as deputy youth commissioner, returned as a part-time deputy, working one day a week. Lenihan said such appointments are rare, and the retiring official who returns part-time can earn no more than $13,500.

The county must save the equivalent of one year's salary of the departing employee in the course of the next 24 months.

If a post is vacant for a few months and the replacement earns substantially less than the retiree, it is not difficult to reach the threshold, Lenihan said.

County pensions are financed and paid through the state pension system. The county must also make payments into the state pension system equivalent to 75 percent of each retiree's final salary. The county is allowed to spread these payments over five years.

"If you work for the county for 15 years, you are going to get 25 percent of your pay as pension," said Burke. At 20, you would get 40 percent. It's an additional 2 percent for each year thereafter. After 37.5 years, it caps off at 75 percent, and very few go beyond it."

Neil Sullivan, personnel specialist, said the state spells out who is eligible.

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