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Changes in the city's early retirement plan proposed at a City Council meeting Thursday won't affect those already eligible for the plan, which has saved the city $2 million since its inception, officials said.

Protecting those already eligible was considered important by some city officials, especially since the last time the City Council even discussed tampering with the plan some departments saw a mass exodus of employees.Public safety employees with 20 to 24 years service can retire with two months base pay and reimbursement for some of their accrued vacation and sick leave. Those with 25 to 30 years get slightly higher benefits.

The plan gives retirees an average of $16,000 more than if they retired at 62 or 65 and has saved the city $2 million since 1985 by leaving positions open temporarily, saving payroll costs, and hiring replacements at a lower salary, Council Executive Director Linda Hamilton said.

Last spring, the council debated what to do with the plan, and although no changes were made, their discussion unsettled many in the city's police and fire department.

Fire Chief Peter Pederson said the debate caused 36 early retirements, only four of which had been planned beforehand.

But the proposed changes won't affect city police and fire employees who have already accumulated 20 years of employment, the minimum time necessary to take advantage of the city's early retirement plan.

The council will vote formally on the proposal at a Tuesday meeting in City Hall.