HERKIMER – When the Empire Center posted a list on its website of the 665 public employees “double dipping” — or collecting public sector pensions while getting paid for other public sector jobs — Herkimer County’s Dr. Vinay Patil emerged as one of the highest-paid at $210,000 annually.

As a taxpayer, it’s easy to look at that with concern, but there’s more to the story.

In New York’s Civil Service Law, Section 211 allows certain retired public sector employees to bypass Section 212’s requirement that says retired state or local government employees can earn no more than $30,000 yearly while still receiving full pension benefits.

The exception, however, applies only to those younger than 65 and requires an extensive application process.

“Part of the rules of the 211 waiver is you have to try to get somebody (who’s not a retired public employee) to do the job,” said Tim Hoefer, executive director of the Empire Center. “You can’t use this as a first resort.”

For Herkimer County Mental Health Services — where Patil has provided psychiatric services for some of the about 1,200 patients it serves each year as well as for the county jail for about three years — it’s a last resort.

“Recruitment of psychiatrists is … you’ll find that in this area it’s almost a futile search,” Director Ed Scudder said, adding that the area has a health professional shortage federal designation. “The lack of psychiatric professionals across the state and the country is a crisis.”

Mental Health Services, Scudder said, began working with the long-retired Patil after successfully navigating the “very rigorous” waiver process. They settled his salary based on precedent.

“Without Dr. Patil, we would be closed,” he said. “That’s not overstating.”

Scudder said Patil remains with the county out of a “desire to help,” and that Patil could earn bundles more working in the private sector.

“I understand that prior to the waiver process … there was a lot of fraud and abuse,” he said. “This certainly is not that.”

What caught Hoefer’s eye, though, wasn’t that there were 665 waivers — it was how often those two-year waivers are renewed.

Indeed, the waiver of Geno Massocco Jr. — the other retired public worker younger than 65 in Herkimer County earning a pension and a public salary — appears to have been renewed at least twice. Under the waiver, he made $44,546 with the District Attorney’s Office as an investigator from April 1, 2009 to March 31, 2011. From April 1, 2013 until March 31, 2015, he’s making $48,077 doing the same.

Massocco’s pension amount wasn’t immediately available, and District Attorney Jeffrey Carpenter couldn’t be reached.

“What I noticed is how many of these waivers are renewed year after year,” Hoefer said, “which suggests to me (the agencies) are not doing a search in good faith.”

The Empire Center’s next steps, he said, are to look through the actual waiver applications to try to determine two things: if the waiver rule is fair and if it’s being administered properly.

Ultimately, though, center’s goal with this and other releases simply is to get the information out.

“You can’t analytically look at the way the government is performing without having access to all of the data,” Hoefer said. “The goal is not to make anyone look bad or good. It’s, ‘Here’s how the dollars are being spent, you decide.’”

© 2014 Utica Observer-Dispatch

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