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Monday, March 12, 2012

Not all retirees get paid through state’s retirement system

AMHERST – Not all workers retired from public jobs are created equal.

After last fall’s ruling by the state Supreme Court making the names and amounts of the top pensioners in the state available to the public, only a select few employees get to keep secret how much of their retirement taxpayers are paying.

Locally, only Amherst is trying to keep their publicly funded retirement packages blocked from public scrutiny.

That’s because of a quirk in the way Amherst contributes to many of its employees’ retirement accounts.

The town uses a 457(b) municipal retirement account, into which employees can contribute whatever portions of their salary they want. The town will match up to 3.5 percent, according to Town Administrator James O’Mara.

While the pensions of Amhert’s police and fire employees are public since they are part of the New Hampshire Retirement System, O’Mara refused to release that information for employees in the town’s library, town hall and recreation, EMS, landfill, and public works departments after The Telegraph’s Right-to-Know request.

For example, Gary MacGuire, at different points was both the town’s police chief and its town administrator. He has since retired from both jobs. However, public records show MacGuire earned $80,758 in pension last year from the state retirement system for his service as an officer, but any amount of retirement benefits he receives from his time as administrator remains a secret.

O’Mara said since each employee can choose what to contribute to the account, the accounts contain personal financial information.

He promised a release of the payments the town makes to a third-party vendor that manages the 457(b) accounts, Valic, since the payments come from taxpayer dollars. Yet, that information was never released.

Not all public employees enjoy the same protections. In November, the state Supreme Court ordered the release of the top 500 earners in the state’s pension system, denying an appeal by the New Hampshire Retirement System.

Later, the system released the names of all pensioners in the state system at The Telegraph’s request.

O’Mara said the town’s retirement program shouldn’t be lumped in with the November decision because it’s not a “defined benefits plan,” that the state uses, basing retirees’ payments on their earnings, time on the job and age.

“Please know that it is my opinion that a 457(b) deferred compensation retirement program and the state-administered defined benefits retirement system are not remotely analogous,” he wrote in a Dec. 22 letter, although he complimented the paper’s “imagination” that the case may apply.

While most public employees are part of the state retirement system, a couple others are part of independent systems, including Nashua’s Department of Public Works and the state’s judges.

Those systems released pension information at The Telegraph’s request.

The information from the New Hampshire Judicial Retirement Plan shows that three former Supreme Court justices – Richard Galway, Joseph Nadeau and David Brock – and a district court judge – Francis Frasier – earn pensions of more than $100,000 a year. Another 31 retired judges make more than $90,000 annually, according to the data.

Only one person in the Nashua DPW small retirement system makes more than $60,000 annually. Former division director Richard Seymour is paid a little more than $64,000 a year, according to data provided by the city.

Other top earners include former superintendent of streets Scott Pollock, about $56,000, former traffic operations manager Nicholas Darchik, about $39,500, and former streets operations manager Jon Collins, about $37,000, according to the city’s data.

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or jcote@nashuatelegraph.com. Also follow Cote on Twitter (@Telegraph_JoeC).