"(It's) a little bit scary," said Jane Savastano, Salem's finance director.
The New Hampshire Retirement System - which serves 53,000 state and local municipal workers, as well as 20,000 retirees - is changing the way it delivers benefits. Anyone retiring after July 1, the start of the next fiscal year, won't receive health benefits for themselves or their families, according to experts familiar with the changes.
That provides an extra incentive for eligible workers to retire before the July 1 deadline.
Salem Town Clerk Barbara Lessard is doing exactly that. Last week, Lessard announced she would leave after 25 years.
In part, she said, it's time to move on. But Lessard said she figured it would be best to move on while still eligible for health benefits.
In Salem, Lessard is one of three employees who have already announced they will depart before July 1. About 20 employees are eligible for retirement this year, said Lynn Rapa, human resources director.
In the Timberlane Regional School District, Superintendent Richard La Salle said he already knows of 16 upcoming retirements. Last year, the district had only seven.
While local towns and schools don't directly pay retirement benefits - the regular pension checks come from the state - the departures still cost local taxpayers.
When employees retire, they are eligible for a payout covering all unused vacation time, sick time and other benefits. In Salem, that averages between $20,000 and $40,000 per retiree.
Salem spent $650,000 in retirement payouts last year, although it only budgeted $350,000, Savastano said. Twenty-four employees retired.
For 2008, the town again plans to ask for $350,000, although Savastano has warned officials the actual cost of the payouts could be much higher.
Preparing for the high cost of a proposed police station and possible school renovations, Salem selectmen have rejected calls to set aside more money in several areas of the budget.
But not every community is bracing itself for a mass exodus, and some towns are better prepared to handle coming retirements if they do materialize.
In Derry, for instance, the town has $3 million set aside in a trust fund to handle retirement payouts.
Beyond that, Derry hasn't seen a large number of employees leaving. In the past year, only three employees retired, according to Finance Director Frank Childs.
"I would say we have people retiring," Childs said, "but, to the best of my knowledge, (the change in health care benefits is) not the issue."
For Londonderry, it isn't clear if the retirement changes will be an issue.
"I don't think it is (going to be a problem)," said Susan Hickey, Londonderry's finance director. "We haven't received any notification from our employees about this."
But, she said, about 20 employees are eligible for retirement and the town's $200,000 separation fund could only handle about 10.
"We'd probably have enough (to pay) for half, and the rest of it we'd have to get absorbed throughout the town budget," she said.
In Windham, it's not clear whether coming retirements will be an issue, either.
"We have heard some talk of some people thinking of retiring, but no one has really notified us," said Dana Call, the finance director in Windham.
If people do decide to retire, Call said, the town has set aside $125,000 - enough to cover everyone eligible.
The changes in the state pension system follow on the heels of a change last year that briefly allowed employees to buy special credits and retire up to five years early. State legislators eliminated the credits only months after instituting them, after a wave of protest erupted from towns and schools that were losing employees far earlier than expected.
Calls this week to the New Hampshire Retirement System were not returned.