Lemus, 52, had other motivations for his early exit.
Years of budget deficits have resulted in wage and benefits reductions for public employees, and city officials have eliminated positions at an unprecedented clip since 2007.
So rather than face the fiscal storm, Lemus, who worked 33 years for the city, decided to hang it up.
“Because of the budget, it seemed like a really good time to go,” he said.
The economic recession and slow recovery have prompted many new trends in the workplace, but one of the least anticipated has been the increase in public employee retirements.
In June, the state saw a 32 percent year-over-year increase in the number of public employee retirements, according to Dana Bilyeu, executive officer for the Public Employees’ Retirement System of Nevada.
At the municipal level, at least 14 employees have retired in the last 12 months, according to human resources manager Chris Syverson, and about half of those were related to city budget cuts.
“They retired due to their positions being required to take a pay reduction, and they did not want it to have an impact on payouts — like vacation, and PERS (retirement) calculations,” Syverson said in an email.
Like Lemus, many public employees across Washoe County are leaving their jobs in order to avoid cuts to retirement benefits.
For example, Lemus was able to roll over sick leave pay and also keep his current health insurance — coverage that is good for eight years — with no penalties.
City officials are looking to place a cap on the rising costs of providing health care benefits for employees and their families by moving to a high-deductible health plan. Negotiations with employee unions are ongoing and in lieu of a change to health care benefits, city officials are looking to impose a 6 percent salary reduction.
“Had I stayed, I would have had to take changes like everyone else,” Lemus said.
Many of those taking early retirement have additional reasons for doing so.
Mike Biselli, 54, worked as a maintenance manager for the city before retiring in January 2010 after 33 years on the job.
Restructuring within the public works department eliminated his position along with four other superintendent positions.
“We would have preferred to stay on for another three or four years,” Biselli said.
But leaving when he did felt like taking one for the team, he said.
Biselli hoped that his retirement would save jobs for younger workers who might otherwise be on the chopping block.
“It was a huge savings for the city,” he said.
The Washoe County government has offered incentives for employees to take early retirement or separation “in the hopes that we get enough interest to avoid layoffs,” spokesperson Kathy Carter said in an email.
These incentives include payout of eligible vacation time at restored wage rates, a sick-leave cash-out and medical service credits for retirees, among others.
The deadline for a decision is July 29 and county officials expect that about 50 workers will take the deal and save jobs for those who cannot afford to retire just yet.
Both Lemus and Biselli said they have no hard feelings about the way they left their jobs.
“(The city of Sparks) was an incredible organization to work for,” Biselli said.
But their decision to retire early reflects the dire straits many governments now find themselves in as a result of declining tax revenues.
“I believe public agencies will never be the same,” Biselli said.