Retirements deplete Westmoreland County workforce | TribLIVE.com
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Rich Cholodofsky

Retirements of Westmoreland County government employees are at an all-time high, a record that officials said can be both a benefit and a problem.

Through Tuesday, 134 county employees have retired in 2014.

That beats the previous high of 97 in 2001, when an incentive program was offered for staffers to leave their positions early.

“Our workforce here is older. I appreciate that there is a lot of experience and knowledge walking out the door, but I think we have good people in place to replace them. I find it a great opportunity for the county to bring in fresh people,” Commissioner Tyler Courtney said.

Retirements have come from senior management to lower level staff members.

Controller Jeff Balzer said 63 employees at Westmoreland Manor, the county’s nursing home in Hempfield, have retired this year.

The Manor employs 582, including nurses, administrators and support personnel. Balzer said retirements have come from all areas of the nursing home operation.

Last year, county commissioners changed the home’s management, hiring Premier Health Care Resources of Montgomery County to operate the Manor.

Officials said the management change had no influence on retirements. “Nobody is being forced to go,” said Commissioner Charles Anderson.

Instead, officials speculated that many of the retirements stemmed from an accounting change made to the county’s pension fund.

As a result, some potential retirees stood to receive a reduced pension benefit if they delayed their departure until 2015, Balzer said.

The $418 million pension fund is sufficient to handle the increased number of retirees, according to the controller.

“We’re OK moving forward because the fund is designed for this,” Balzer said. “But this is an area of concern when you lose 130 people. That’s a big brain drain.”

Commissioner Ted Kopas suggested employee morale may be responsible for the retirements.

“County government is in a tough place. We have a massive deficit and conflicting management styles. People are tired of being micromanaged by multiple people. There is a real danger in losing this amount of institutional knowledge,” Kopas said.

By year’s end, commissioners will have to find a replacement for solicitor R. Mark Gesalman, who has served as head of the county’s law department since 1989.

Gesalman, 62, of Jeannette, said Tuesday he will retire at the end of December.

“I’m looking forward to spending time with my wife and other family,” Gesalman said.

Gesalman oversees an office of eight attorneys. He earns $74,600 a year and his job is considered part-time.

“We have very big shoes to fill; this is going to be difficult. We need a skilled, organized attorney and not simply a political hire,” Kopas said.

Courtney said commissioners might consider converting the position to a full-time job.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or [email protected].

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