Altoona Mirror | Chief: I’m not getting pension payments

Findings from TUA’s pension project on Altoona and Blair County are featured in this article at the Altoona Mirror. UPDATE: A response to this article has been made here.

Altoona Fire Chief Reynold D. Santone Jr. disagrees with a Chicago-based organization that claims he is double dipping.
Representatives of Taxpayers United of America stopped in Altoona on Tuesday to discuss the results of a new pension study that is says exposes the top pensions for the retired government employees of Altoona and Blair County, which range as high as $1.4 million and to push for pension system reform.
Santone is receiving an annual pension of $48,328 from the City of Altoona with an estimated lifetime pension payout of $1,449,835, according to the study.
“He is the current fire chief, and he is in the pension system now,” said Vice President Christina Tobin, whose father, Jim, founded the grassroots organization in 1976. “He is collecting a pension from the pension system today. It is like he is double dipping.”
Santone said that is not the case.
He said he dropped out of the pension plan in 2009 but remained employed by the city as fire chief.
“I am not getting pension money. My pension was frozen in 2009. I had to give up post-retirement health care and 101 sick days to get into the plan,” Santone said. “I can’t touch that money until I actually retire from the City of Altoona. It is not like I am getting paid by the City of Altoona and getting a pension.”
Blair County Sheriff Mitchell Cooper, who retired as an Altoona police officer in 2008 after nearly 26 years on the force, is at the top of the Altoona Police pensions list, the taxpayers group said.
Cooper is receiving an annual pension of $42,852 with an estimated lifetime pension payout of $1,285,564.
Cooper said he is receiving the pension money.
“I put my time in and am getting the pension the city and FOP [Fraternal Order of Police] agreed to over the years,” Cooper said. “I don’t believe that Altoona police officers’ pensions compare to those of some other agencies. There are members of other police agencies that make more than the Altoona police.”
Meanwhile, TUA members will be in Harrisburg today to deliver letters to Gov. Tom Corbett and members of the General Assembly.
“We are calling for meaningful pension reform here in Pennsylvania,” Tobin said. “Ending pensions for all new government hires will eventually eliminate unfunded government pensions. Putting new government hires into Social Security and 401(k)s would achieve this.”
The group also is calling for all government employees participating in a government pension fund to contribute an additional 10 percent toward their pension.
“Our position is to pay these people a fair wage and let them save for their own retirement. Pay people for the job they do and let them save for their own retirement,” TUA Director of Outreach Rae Ann McNeilly said.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | Controversy doesn't stop group from disclosing pension figures

Findings from TUA’s pension project on Pittsburgh and Allegheny County are featured in this article at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. UPDATE: An update to the original release that this article is based on has been made here.

A group that is crisscrossing the nation raising alarms about underfunded public pension plans says it will continue to name names, even though some of its data was called into question on Monday in Pittsburgh.
A spokeswoman for Taxpayers United of America said the group is publishing the names and pension incomes of top public pensioners to emphasize the cost to taxpayers.
“Many government retirees make more in pension payments than the private-sector taxpayers make in salaries,” said Christina Tobin, vice president of the group. “Both the economy and the pension system are in serious trouble. While taxpayers struggle to save for their own retirement and fund the pension system, government retirees have to be concerned that their pension payments continue.”
Confronted with statements that it dramatically inflated pensions for three Pittsburgh retirees, Tobin’s group said those numbers came from the city and would be corrected when the city issues new numbers.
Charles Dayieb, a retired parking supervisor the city says receives an annual pension of $27,380, laughed when he heard the group put his benefit at $180,331 a year.
“If you can find that, please tell me where it is,” Dayieb said.
The group, whose numbers were questioned in Ohio, wants state, local and federal government agencies to place all new employees in 401(k)-type pension plans. Public employees already in lifetime pension plans should be required to increase their contributions by 10 percent and pay half of their health care costs, Tobin said.
They plan to take their proposals to Harrisburg on Wednesday.
Gov. Tom Corbett said he is concerned about the threat public pension costs pose to state and local governments.
“We have to look at the pension issue. This is the Pac-Man of the budget,” Corbett said, referring to the video game in which voracious creatures gobble up everything in sight.
Corbett said taxpayer costs for the pension systems that cover state employees and public school workers are scheduled to increase from $1.6 billion this year to $4 billion in 2016.
Economist Steve Herzenberg, executive director of the Keystone Research Center, cautioned that 401(k)-type plans often include higher overhead costs than traditional pensions.
“Most of those proposals amount to a transfer of money from Main Street to Wall Street,” he said. | Visiting group decries high public pensions

Findings from TUA’s pension project on Pittsburgh and Allegheny County are featured in this article at UPDATE: An update to the original release that this article is based on has been made here.

A Chicago advocacy group stopped in Pittsburgh on Monday to promote its campaign for scaled-back government pensions, but retirees and others said there’s more to pension figures than meets the eye.
Representatives of Taxpayers United of America are on a multistate tour to demand an end to defined benefit plans for government employees. During the first of four stops in Pennsylvania, the group provided the names and pension amounts for 85 city and Allegheny County retirees, saying the numbers show that government pensions are overly generous, straining municipal coffers and out of step with private-sector benefits.
“The math just doesn’t work for defined benefit systems,” Rae Ann McNeilly, the group’s director of outreach said. Many municipalities have contributed to unfunded liabilities with unreasonable earnings forecasts for retirement fund portfolios, she said.
Pension woes have afflicted Pittsburgh, which narrowly avoided a state takeover of its underfunded pension last year. The state pension funds for teachers and commonwealth employees also are seriously underfunded.
Taxpayers United calls itself a nonpartisan nonprofit. Christina Tobin, the group’s vice president, said it has a political action committee that’s made contributions to a handful of candidates.
The group said it obtained pension data by making Right-to-Know requests of city and county pension funds. It provided lists of 85 city and county retirees with annual pensions ranging from about $37,000 to about $180,000.
But officials said at least two of the figures — including the $180,000 attributed to retired city parking supervisor Charles Dayieb — were inaccurate.
“I don’t know where they got that one,” Mr. Dayieb, who officially retired 11 years ago but works two days a week as a store clerk, said with a laugh. Jim South, an attorney for the city’s municipal pension office, said Mr. Dayieb’s annual pension is about $27,000 a year; Mr. Dayieb put it closer to $20,000.
The 25 city police retirees with the biggest pensions receive from about $37,000 to about $52,000 annually, while their 25 counterparts from the fire department receive about $52,000 to about $72,000, the group said.
Joshua Bloom, attorney for the firefighters union, said the numbers lack context. Firefighters receive no Social Security, he said, while some worked extraordinary amounts of overtime.
In addition to naming retirees and their pensions, Taxpayers United estimated a “lifetime pension payout” for each. For the 25 city firefighters, the lifetime estimates ranged from about $1.6 million to about $2.1 million over 30 years.
Mr. Bloom said the estimates were offensive, partly because firefighters have a lower life expectancy than other demographic groups.
According to city data, former city solicitor George Specter is the non-public safety retiree with the biggest pension — about $52,000 a year.
He also draws a salary of about $115,000 as general counsel for the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority.
Mr. Specter couldn’t be reached for comment. The agency’s executive director, Rob Stephany, said the city pension reflects Mr. Specter’s long career with the city.
Mr. Stephany said government agencies have a tough time attracting and retaining engineers, lawyers and other professionals. While their expertise is needed to protect the public’s interest, he said, they command higher salaries in the private sector.
With an annual pension of about $77,000, retired corrections officer Russell Strathen ranked fourth on the group’s list of highest-paid county retirees.
Mr. Strathen, who confirmed the amount of his pension, said he worked a lot of overtime that enabled him to “make a lot of money” and build his pension. If he hadn’t agreed to work those shifts, he said, other officers could have been forced to work overtime even if they would have rather been home with their families.
“You cannot leave inmates unattended,” Mr. Strathen said.
Mr. Strathen retired about two years ago after about 23 years on the job. He said the county could hire more officers if it doesn’t want to pay overtime to the current complement.
“I understand the public anger over it,” he said of public pensions. “You know, it’s a benefit I obviously took advantage of. It was there.”
The group wants to halt defined benefit plans for new government hires and put new workers on 401(k) plans. It also wants current government employees to begin contributing more of their salaries toward their pensions.
On Wednesday, the group will be in Harrisburg to press its demand for new pension laws and to highlight the pensions of state legislators. “There are some hefty ones there,” Ms. McNeilly said.