The Medford City Council choked on an estimated $920,000 price tag to pay off retirees and other former employees for accrued vacation time and banked overtime hours.
But in the end, council members paid the bill.
"This is not sustainable," Councilor Chris Corcoran said at Thursday's meeting.
"This is not reflective of what happens in the private sector."
Corcoran said public employees already receive a generous benefits package, and he said these kind of hits to the budget could ultimately bankrupt municipalities.
Despite the reservations of Corcoran and the other council members, they voted unanimously to approve the payouts because they are bound by employee contract agreements.
The Fire Department will receive the largest share at $400,000, fueled by the recent retirement of former fire Chief Dave Bierwiler and others.
The second-largest share will be $330,000 to the Police Department.
When an employee retirees, the city is required to pay for any vacation days accrued. Employees who work overtime have the option to get paid or to bank the hours if they want to take leave at a later date. Employees can accrue a maximum of 400 hours.
Alison Chan, director of the city's Finance Department, said she made an estimate of how much will have to be paid out based mainly on the number of people retiring or leaving their jobs.
"It is larger than last year," she said.
She said she saw an increase in her own department, with a $65,000 payout, primarily because of retirements.
Councilor Al Densmore, who was in the Legislature, said he blames himself and other legislators for enacting binding arbitration laws in the 1970s that have been forced on municipalities.
"I'd like to take that vote back," he said.
Because of the complexity of the issue, he said it's very difficult for local governments to deal with these contractual agreements.
"We don't have the ability to control our own destiny," he said. "I don't like to have to vote for this."
Councilor Bob Strosser said the city has been running a leaner staff in recent years, requiring more overtime from employees and contributing to the payout problem.
"This is unsustainable," Councilor Daniel Bunn said, "and everybody knows it."
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.