ALBANY – A total of 665 state and local government workers have permission to collect both a full-time salary and retirement payments, according to a new report.

The Empire Center, a fiscally conservative think tank, on Monday released a list of the public employees in New York with a “211 waiver,” which allows for so-called “double dipping” if a retired public worker returns to work in a government job.

Topping the list was Vinay Pital, a psychiatrist with Herkimer County Mental Health Services who can collect a $93,204-a-year pension while providing contractual services of up to $210,000, according to the Albany-based group.

The number of waivers in the Empire Center’s database is current as of mid-2014 and was obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request, the organization said.

“The system encourages government workers to retire even if they want to continue working for employers who need or value their services,” Empire Center executive director Tim Hoefer said in a statement. “At the same time, these waivers can appear unfair and open to abuse from a taxpayers’ perspective.”

The list is also populated with dozens of police officers, many of whom now work in an administrative role with other agencies or as an investigator for district attorneys. Among those are Rockland County Undersheriff Robert Van Cura, the former South Nyack-Grand View police chief who is permitted to collect an annual salary of $128,100 and retirement payments of $121,764, according to the think tank’s databases.

David Chong, the White Plains Commissioner of Public Safety and former Mt. Vernon police commissioner, has the third-highest salary on the list at $183,622. He’s eligible to receive both his salary and pension through July 6, 2015, but his retirement pay level wasn’t listed in the database.

State law prevents government workers under the age of 65 from collecting their full retirement benefits if they return to public work and earn more than $30,000 a year. But that restriction can be waived in two-year blocks if the worker’s employer successfully obtains a 211 waiver.

Hoefer said the waiver system points to the need for a defined-contribution retirement system — known by most as a 401k-style plan.

But Stephen Madarasz, a spokesman for the state Civil Service Employees Association, said the Empire Center’s conclusions were misguided. CSEA is the state’s largest public workers union.

“They fall into two categories, the people who get the waivers: political appointees and people with a law enforcement background who are going into enforcement-sensitive jobs,” Madarasz said. “Almost no one else. It certainly is not any kind of evidence that this is something wrong with the pension system, other than it is being taken advantage of for political reasons.”

© 2014 Gannett News Service

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The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.

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