Double-Dipping … but not ice cream

An easy solution to Ohio’s double-dipping problem

By Maggie Thurber | for Ohio Watchdog

Photo by Maggie Thurber DOUBLE-DIPPING: Ohioans have mixed feelings about public employees who double-dip: retire, collect a pension and immediately return to the same job, usually at the same pay.

Double-dipping: When a public employee retires, begins collecting a pension and then returns to the same position — and often the same pay — from which they retired.

It’s legal in Ohio and practiced by a large number of people, but it’s become an issue in a local levy campaign.

The Lucas County Children Services Board has two levies on the books. In November, they’re asking voters to approve the renewal of one of them that doesn’t expire for two more years, combined with an increase. They’re asking for more money.

But last March, Dean Sparks, the executive director and a public employee, retired and began to collect his $70,000 annual public pension. The board immediately rehired him, giving him an 18-month contract with a $10,000 pay cut. His total income is now about $200,000 a year.

The Toledo Blade newspaper, which has long decried the double-dipping practice, wrote several editorials on the issue, calling on Sparks to quit and urging voters to deny the levy request because of the double dipping.

As with any issue, there are mixed feelings, ranging from an “it should be forbidden” to “let everyone do it.”

Clearly the pension is money earned by the employee to which they are entitled whenever they are eligible. No one debates that point.

The problems arise when an employee takes another job after retiring and beginning to collect.

For instance, Edna Brown is a sitting state senator from Toledo. She was employed by the city of Toledo for a number of years and then retired. When she retired, she began to collect her pension under Ohio’s Public Employees Retirement System.

Then she decided to run for elective office — and won, serving as a city councilman, state representative and now as a state senator.

She did what many in the private arena do: Retire from one job and then take another. And like in the private sector, she is earning a new paycheck and still collecting her pension.

But others, like Sparks, have retired and returned to the same job.

In Lucas County, several elected officials who were running for re-election retired after winning in November, began collecting their state pension and then were sworn in to their same position in January. Basically, they took a two-month vacation and started the new year, and their new term, with both a weekly paycheck and their pension checks.

Many taxpayers object to this for a number of reasons, including that it prevents younger employees from being able to advance and contribute to the public retirement system. It’s really more like collecting two paychecks at the public’s expense.

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