Veteran New Milford police officers are faced with the unknown as the latest police union contract and pension head to arbitration hearings in September.

Among them is Henry Marino, a long-time union leader, patrol officer and detective, who is opting to take his retirement now.

Officer Marino, a 26-year veteran whose son, Collin, joined the New Milford Police Department last year, mailed in his retirement papers this week.

Four other officers -- Sgt. John Pecha, Sgt. Mark Blanchette, Detective Jim Mullin and Officer Edward DeLisle -- have inquired as to how much they will collect if they take their retirement when they become eligible in the coming months.

Officer Marino's pension, based on annual earnings of $79,400, will be about $49,000.

These possible retirements come just two years after a seven-officer exodus from the department.

At that point, the three top administrative leaders, including former Chief Colin McCormack, opted to retire.

At the time, there were again questions about how an arbitrated contract might affect medical benefits for current officers, as well as benefits for pension-eligible administrators not covered by the union.

"This is the second time in two years we're going to arbitration," said Sgt. Earl Wheeler, one of the union representatives.

He said he is aware of at least two of the possible retirements directly related to concerns about possible pension changes in a new contract.

Chief Shawn Boyne said department retirements are often cyclical, and so this is not an anomaly to New Milford. At this time, the department has a list of 11 eligible candidates to fill anticipated openings.

The chief said it is always a loss when veteran officers opt to retire, but they should be able to do so with a sense of pride for devoting 25 years or more of their lives to this community.

Chief Boyne said he hopes to be able to replace them with others with similar dedication.

Operationally, the chief said despite these pending retirements, including some others he anticipates may occur in the next few years, the department is prepared so that it will prove "not even a speed bump."

As for Marino, Wheeler described him as a "caring, extremely compassionate" police officer and union leader whose "dedication to the department and the town are immeasurable."

Messages left for Marino, who works the midnight shift, have not been returned.

Union vice president Jim Mullin, a long-time colleague who is also contemplating retirement, said Marino has left quite a legacy, and he is proud of what they have been able to do in working together as officers and union representatives.

"He's an honest guy who is well respected here and in the community," Mullin said. "He's touched a lot of people."

Lt. Larry Ash, a former union leader and colleague, described Marino as a "cop's cop."

"He's been an incredible asset to the New Milford Police Department and the town," Ash said. "He's direct, he's engaged and he's committed. He's always been a strong leader and diligent about fighting for what he believes in."; 860-354-2274