Department of Public Works employees could retire at age 55 — 10 years early — under a bill at the Statehouse proposed by the Essex Regional Retirement Board and a Lynn lawmaker.
The legislation would give DPW workers the same status as police officers and firefighters, who can retire at 55 because of the inherent dangers of their jobs.
It would also cost taxpayers, who'd be on the hook not only for the extra 10 years of each employee's pension but for the added salaries and health insurance costs of their replacements.
"It's outrageous," said Ira Singer, the town administrator of Middleton, one of the 19 towns that pay into the Essex Regional Retirement Board.
"At a time when there's such scrutiny over pension costs ... to be looking at a bill that does nothing more than lump unnecessary and exorbitant costs back onto the Essex County Retirement communities is absurd. ... Shame on the board for submitting that legislation."
State Sen. Thomas McGee of Lynn, the bill's sponsor, said DPW workers deserve early retirement because of the physical demands of the job.
"If you're talking about working out in the streets doing the kinds of jobs that DPW workers do, it's a taxing job, and over time it impairs your ability to do the job," McGee said.
Still, no other municipal employees besides police, firefighters and certain electrical line workers can retire as early as 55.
"Most of the work our guys do involves driving trucks and other machines," Ipswich Town Manager Robert Markel said. "The day when the DPW got out and dug trenches with a shovel are over. These are the guys who plow the snow in the winter time with trucks and who ride on sidewalk plows."
Some DPW workers choose to work beyond 65, Markel said.
"We retired an employee at age 77 not too long ago," he said.