Double Dipping Is Not Illegal

Let it be said, up front, Celoron clerk Shirley Sanfilippo has done nothing wrong.

After retiring from the city of Jamestown, she was asked by Jack Keeney to serve as Celoron clerk. She is more than qualified for the job and, by all accounts, Mrs. Sanfilippo has done a good job as clerk during her time in the village – including the difficult time recently when Keeney’s illness kept him away from village affairs. We can understand, then, how Mrs. Sanfilippo and her supporters were upset when a raise included in the village’s 2013-14 budget proposal was questioned by former village officials Rick Slagle and Warren Gertsch. The raise is about $1,000 a year for a part-time position, but it is also nearly the same amount as the village’s proposed tax levy increase.

Slagle contends Mrs. Sanfilippo shouldn’t be paid any more from the village because she also receives a taxpayer-funded pension from her tenure as Jamestown City Clerk. According to the tentative Celoron budget, the clerk/treasurer position is to be paid $31,000. That wage doubles when pensions come into play. The average worker in Celoron earns $27,898 a year, according to 2010 Census data. Census data showed more than 50 percent of the village’s 1,112 residents were jobless – 38.4 percent of Celoron residents weren’t in the labor force with another 15.4 percent listed as unemployed. Slagle reasons the proposed $1,000 raise is unnecessary because, with Mrs. Sanfilippo’s municipal pension factored in, she would earn twice the wage of the average Celoron resident.

Again, Mrs. Sanfilippo has done nothing wrong. There is nothing illegal going on in the budget.

Celoron is just a small example of a national trend known as double dipping, which happens when a municipal worker retires from their job with a public pension and then begins working for another municipality. It’s costly – and perfectly legal. A local analysis hasn’t been done yet, but a 2012 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle analysis showed double-dipping by state employees is costing taxpayers $192.7 million in salaries and pensions. The number of state employees collecting a public pension has increased 47 percent since 2010.

As pension costs skyrocket for municipalities statewide, withholding municipal pensions for retirees who re-enter the municipal workforce is becoming an increasingly popular idea. Given the stranglehold rising pension payments pose for local budgets, it is also the right idea.