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Public pensions a travesty

Published: Sun, January 27, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

First a reminder about the public pension system in Ohio: It is shrouded in secrecy with regard to the amount of money paid out to individual retirees.

You, the taxpayers who contribute to public employees’ pension plans, are permitted by law to only two pieces of information: one, whether an employee is retired; two, the salary at the time of retirement.

In an attempt to appease newspapers around the state demanding an end to the secrecy, the pension system has tossed out a bone — the formula used to calculate pensions.

It is as follows: The average of the three highest-paid years of public employment, multiplied by 2.2 percent, multiplied by the number of years employed.

Health care

Thus, an officeholder earning $100,000 a year (there are many more of those than you may think) in his three highest-paid years with 30 years of service would get an annual retirement of about $66,000. He would also receive benefits such as health care. (It is noteworthy that the value of the benefit package is never added to the bottom line.)

However, because of the secrecy, we will never know if the formula is legitimate, or is a ruse.

The issue of public pensions is in the spotlight — again — because a change in the cost-of-living adjustment is going into effect this year. Instead of a flat 3 percent annual increase in retirement pay, members of OPERS will get an adjustment based on the Consumer Price Index. That increase could be about 1 percent this year.

Thus, there is a rush to retire now so as to lock in the 3 percent for the foreseeable future.

But that does not mean they are leaving their cushy jobs. There are elected officials in the Mahoning Valley, for example, who retired before their terms expired, but then ran for re-election — and won.

Thus, they are raking in their annual salaries and their pensions. Unfortunately, we will never know officially how much they’re making, because ... it’s a secret.

We can guesstimate using the formula, but no one in a position to know will confirm the calculations.

Thus, the question: Can a formula be developed that would provide a more accurate picture of a retiree’s pension? Yes, it can.

First, take the established formula — the average of the three highest-paid years of employment, multiplied by 2.2 percent, multiplied by the number of years employed. Then, multiply that amount by 10 to reflect all the benefits enjoyed by public employees at taxpayers’ expense, including use of government vehicles and conferences in exotic places (plush hotels and meals.)

Vacation, sick time

After that, multiply the total amount by 20 in recognition of the brazen attitude of those in the public sector when it comes to vacation and sick time. Unlike the private sector’s “use-it-or-lose-it” rule governing vacations and access to sick leave when legitimately sick, the public sector has turned the two benefits into a gold mine. Not only is accumulation permitted, a percentage of unused vacation time and sick leave can be cashed out at retirement at the employee’s highest rate of pay.

Now, multiply that total by 30, to factor in the in-your-face behavior on the part of elected officials who seek re-election, but retire secretly before voters have had a chance to decide if they want to reward such breach of trust.

Using this formula, the monthly pensions of officeholders and others can easily total hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Vindicator recently published several stories that focused on the large number of Trumbull County government employees, including officeholders, who have retired but remain on the public payroll.

We don’t know how much money they’re making in salary and pension payments. Salaries are public record; the pensions are not.

It’s an obscene amount.


Then show us your monthly pay stubs and retirement checks all you public employees who have retired, but are still on the public payroll.

Among those who reportedly submitted letters of intent to retire are Sheriff Thomas Altiere, Prosecutor Dennis Watkins, county Commissioner Daniel Polivka, Family Court Judge Pam Rintala, Common Pleas Court Judge W. Watt McKay and Warren Municipal Court Judge Thomas Gysegem.

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