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A paycheck and a pension check: Is it double dipping?

October 25, 2018 06:18 PM

One of the greatest parts about being a government employee in New York is the guaranteed retirement. The only thing that makes the financial security sweeter is when you are getting full-time paycheck along with your pension check.

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856 young retirees asked the state for permission this year to collect both a full-time government salary and a state pension. NewsChannel 13 has the list thanks to Freedom of Information Law requests by the Empire Center. We found the state is paying out millions of pension dollars to people who are not really retired.  

"They're all earning pensions somewhere around $100,000 mark, and they're probably drawing down salary somewhere around $100,000 mark," said Tim Hoefer, Empire Center Executive Director, about the state's top so-called "double dippers".

Between pension and salary, we found plenty bringing home six-figure salaries using See Through NY.

A Special Investigator for the Suffolk County District Attorney is making $155,000, plus a $64,000 pension.

The North Hempstead Commissioner of Parks is making $125,000, plus a $72,000 pension.

The North Tonawanda Superintendent of Public Works was pulling down $106,000, plus a $50,000 pension. He just retired for the second time.

Around here, the former SUNY Cobleskill Police Chief is a top earner. According to records, he received permission to make $110,000 last year and collect a $37,000 pension.  

This is all legal. Government retirees who go back to work with the government before their 65th birthday can apply for something called a 211 waiver. Without the waiver, state law requires yearly income to be capped at $30,000, if you still want to collect your state pension.  If you work in the private sector, there are no limits on pension or paycheck.

The waiver is meant to temporarily fill a position until managers find a qualified and not-yet-retired person to take the job. However, that temporary solution sometimes turns into a long-term fix. According to records, the SUNY Cobleskill chief had a 211 waiver granted for ten years.

With years of experience, retirees could be the most qualified person for a position. Their presence on staff could be a great benefit. Even if they do go back to work, they have earned their pension. Hoefer says, 211 waivers are still a problem in many cases.

"The state Constitution guarantees that we're going to pay public service retirees in perpetuity, a benefit that we have given them. People in the private sector, like me and probably like you, have 401(k)s, where we are contributing on a monthly basis and when we leave service for the organization that we work for, their liability for us ends. In public service, that doesn't happen," said Hoefer.

Greene County Democrat Aidan O'Connor is running for Assembly in the 102nd District. He thinks doing away with 211 waivers would help stop the exodus of young talent.

"It's something we hear when we're knocking on doors, people go, 'is that legalized double dipping?'" said O'Connor. "A lot of younger people want to stay here and want to work here. We have people taking a position in public office for 30, 40, 50 years, or public employment."

Assemblyman Chris Tague is currently the incumbent in that assembly district. He thinks it is wrong for anyone to take a 211 waiver. But being a former town supervisor, he understands how local governments could save local taxpayers money offering a job to a retiree.

"Because they can hire somebody for a lower amount of money, but on the other hand it's still costing the state more, because the person is collecting both out of a pension, plus out of there," said Tague, R-Schoharie.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli is in charge of the state's pension system. His office declined an interview on 211 waivers. The former SUNY Cobleskill Police Chief was recently promoted to Deputy Commissioner of SUNY Police. SUNY says he has surpassed his 65th birthday, and no longer needs a waiver. He did not return our phone calls or request for comment.


MORE INFORMATION: Search who has applied for a 211 Waiver | Search New York government salaries | Search state pensions

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Asa Stackel

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