Police Commissioner Edward Webber is about to become Suffolk government's latest double-dipper, collecting as much as $321,000 annually in salary and pension.
But Webber had to take the unusual step of retroactively retiring from a job he no longer holds to make it happen.
The new commissioner also is eligible for $306,600 for unused vacation and sick time accrued during a lengthy career. Webber said he is willing to defer that payment until he steps down as commissioner.
Disclosure of Webber's arrangement comes as Suffolk struggles with a multimillion-dollar budget gap and spiraling state pension bills.
Some county lawmakers and outside experts called Webber's dual payments inappropriate given the fiscal climate. But it is legal for Webber to take his full county salary and state pension, and he says he's only getting what he's earned.
Webber, 65, said he filed papers with the state on Friday to retire as chief of support services. He became police commissioner on Aug. 24.
Webber said he expects his pension to be capped at 75 percent of his final year's salary, though the final decision is up to the state.
That salary, according to county comptroller's office, totals $190,551, but adding holiday and stipends for longevity his total compensation becomes $211,226. If capped at 75 percent, Webber's maximum pension would total $158,419. Together with his $162,760 commissioner salary, that could put Webber's annual income at $321,179. He said his retirement takes effect Oct. 9.
Defending the payments
Webber defended the dual payments, saying he earned his pension over his nearly 40-year career in the police department. He noted that by moving to the civilian post of commissioner, he is earning about $28,000 less a year than in his former position as chief of support services.
"I'm taking a different job that pays a lot less money and that's a little different from the norm," Webber said. He said the county will no longer have to make an annual contribution to his pension, which aides to County Executive Steve Bellone put at $58,000 a year. If the county had hired someone else as commissioner, Webber said it would have cost Suffolk an additional $16,000 in health benefits.
E.J. McMahon, senior fellow at the Empire Center for New York State Policy, a conservative think tank, called Webber's arrangement "inappropriate, especially in these times."
"If someone is making a full salary and the equivalent of a full salary in the form of a pension, there should be a discount for taxpayers who finance . . . and guarantee the pension," McMahon said.
Bellone declined to be interviewed. In a statement, he said he nominated Webber "because he is the best candidate to lead the police department. After 40 years of service to Suffolk County residents, Commissioner Webber is now of retirement age and is exploring options available to him under the law."
Discussions with Bellone
Spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said Bellone and Webber discussed the commissioner's pension plans before his appointment. During the talks, Webber offered to defer payment for unused sick and vacation time, though Webber said the Superior Officer Association must sign off on the agreement. Union officials did not return calls for comment. Under the contract, Webber is permitted to cash out 120 unused vacation days, and to be paid for 300 sick days.
Legis. Ricardo Montano (D-Brentwood) said the dual payments should have been disclosed during Webber's confirmation. The legislature confirmed Webber unanimously.
"I'm very surprised it was not brought to our attention," said Montano. "It was a material fact and would have affected peoples' votes."
Because Webber has reached age 65, he can collect both his salary and pension without limitation. Officials said Webber could file for his retirement from his sworn position as support services chief even after taking the civilian job as commissioner.
In February, Bellone got a state waiver for Deputy County Executive Fred Pollert, 62, to collect his $132,996 annual pension and his $175,000 a year salary -- a total of $307,996.
Webber's predecessor, Richard Dormer, retired from the department in 1992 and began taking his $67,071 annual pension. He returned as commissioner in 2004 and suspended his pension payments. Upon turning 65 the following year, he began taking his pension again, giving him a total of $182,000 a year.
How the law works
State and municipal workers who are under age 65 may work while taking a state pension, but are limited to $30,000 a year in salary. Beginning at age 65, there is no earning restriction.
A municipal employer may seek a waiver so that a person who is under 65 can receive a pension and full salary. The waivers are only granted if the state Civil Service Commission finds "there is an urgent need . . . as the result of an unplanned, unpredictable, and unexpected vacancy where sufficient time is not available to recruit a qualified individual." Officials must show they have made an "extensive recruitment effort" and that there are "no available, qualified non-retirees."
-- Rick Brand