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.