Porter Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford will begin a sixth term in January without the benefit of his staff of three and their combined 67 years of experience at his side.
His bailiff, court reporter and executive assistant are all retiring Aug. 29, in part, to avoid reductions in the amount of money they expect to receive from a portion of their public employee retirement plan benefits.
Executive assistant Julie Powell said she and the others at the court have to leave now to avoid watching the returns on the annuity portion of their retirement slip from a guaranteed 7.5 percent, despite market fluctuations, to lower market rates over the next few years under a measure enacted by state lawmakers to reduce the chance of unfunded liabilities.
The upcoming losses proved incentive enough to convince the court staff to follow through on retirement plans when Bradford surprised them by opting to seek another term.
"We said, 'Hey, we're in the mindset to go now,'" Powell said.
The loss of retirement money not only affects state and local government employees, but teachers as well. While there is no mass exodus among educators occurring across the region, some are calling it quits to avoid losing any money on their self-funded annuities.
Officials at the Indiana Public Retirement System project about 9,700 retirements in 2014 from the Public Employees Retirement Fund, known as PERF, and the Teachers Retirement Fund, called TRF, combined.
Porter County government is losing a total of 12 employees as a result of the changes to PERF, including Porter County Treasurer Mike Bucko and County Highway Department Supervisor Al Hoagland.
The employee exits affect several additional departments, Porter County Auditor Bob Wichlinski said, including the treasurer's office and the information technologies department.
Each employee not replaced will save the financially strapped county not only the salary amount, but also the $17,300 budgeted each year for health insurance, Wichlinski said. He was unsure how many, if any, of the posts, will be left vacant in light of the County Council's call on departments to reduce their proposed budgets by 10 percent for next year.
The number of losses within Lake County government is less clear, but Commissioner Gerry Scheub said he knew of a couple workers leaving the highway department.
Officials there said a mass exodus is not expected, as an earlier attempt to encourage early retirement was not successful. But 156 of the county government employees are at full retirement age -- about 1 in 11 of all full-time staff.
The Porter County Public Library System is losing three employees to the PERF change, Director Jim Cline said.
While this is a small percentage of the overall 60 full-time employees, Cline said two of the three people leaving have worked for the library system longer than his 22 years and the third came in just a few years after him. The hope is to make up for at least some of that institutional memory loss by filling those posts with existing employees, he said, but they may need to bring in new people.
The Valparaiso Police Department suffered a similar loss when an administrative assistant retired due to the PERF change and took 28 years of experience with her, Clerk-Treasurer Sharon Swihart said.
Swihart knew of at least one other city employee eying retirement.
Portage Clerk-Treasurer Christopher Stidham said a couple city employees are considering leaving over the PERF changes, but have not yet decided whether the money saved would amount to more than the cost of having to pick up health insurance until Medicare kicks in.
Portage is not likely to see a lot of employees leaving over the PERF change, because the city had offered early-retirement buyouts a couple years ago, he said.
Chesterton Clerk-Treasurer Stephanie Kuziela knew of one town employee thinking of retirement to head off a loss in benefits. The question there, too, is whether the savings would be greater than the cost of picking up health insurance through COBRA, she said.
Staff writers Carmen McCollum and William Dolan contributed to this report.