Westfield: Profile Of Pensions And Salaries

NOVEMBER 2005 - Number Of Over Age 80 Retirees On Rise - In this month's snapshot of a municipal retirement system's pensions we will look at the Western Mass. City of Westfield. In doing so, we will compare Westfield's current pensions with those of ten years ago.

Members should bear in mind that all of our state's 106 retirement systems utilize the same retirement formula. Since salary is a major component of that formula we will also compare Westfield's salaries with those of a decade ago - from 1994 to 2004, the most recent available data.

In 1994 the average pension of a Westfield retiree was $9,068. Ten years later, in 2004, it was $16,278, a 79% increase. By way of comparison, state retirees' pensions went up by 78% and teachers 99% over the same period of time. The latest state average is $19,769, and teachers is $27, 079.

However, most similar municipal retirement systems have average pensions that are in the $15,000 range. Pittsfield, another Western Mass. city that we recently reviewed, has an average pension of $14,258. On the high side, Brookline, a relatively affluent greater Boston community, has an average pension of $19,704.

"We've had two early retirement incentive programs in recent years," explained Westfield Retirement Board Chairman Kevin Regan. "This increased both the number of retirees and the size of the pensions.

"Westfield (pop. 41,000) has become more of a residential community than an industrial city in recent years. We do have plenty of room for both housing and commercial growth."

Westfield's retirees have increased in number by 22% over the ten-year period, which is about normal for most retirement systems. What jumps out is the increase in the number of retirees over age 80. There has been a 115% increase in that category. This confirms what we have observed in every retirement system - members are hanging around longer.

"That's true," noted twenty-three-year Westfield Retirement Board Director Lynn Rea. "I see members in their 80s or older driving around and perfectly healthy."

On the salary side, the average salary of a Westfield worker (teachers not included) has increased by 31% over the same 10-year period - from $25,263 to a current $33,200. Although the state employees' average salary of $48,000 is considerably higher, Westfield's employees are in the same salary ballpark as cities with similar demographics.