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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

More than half of N.H. public pensions less than $15,000

CONCORD - While the six-figure-a-year pensions for New Hampshire public employees get the headlines, more than half of those receiving a government retirement check in 2010 got less than $15,000.

Also, the top pension earners in New Hampshire varied considerably depending on their government occupation.

The top 20 local police officers, most of them chiefs, earned a pension of at least $92,400.

By contrast, the top 20 drawing a pension in 2010 who worked for state government got at least $53,150 or topping off about 40 percent lower.

The top 20 local government workers - many of them school superintendents - got at least $61,200 annually, while local firefighters in the top 20 pulled in a pension of at least $79,450.

Those were among the quick observations that come from a massive, spreadsheet document dump from the New Hampshire Retirement System that released the identity, employer and benefit amount for all 23,732 who got some retirement benefits last year.

The records came in response to a Right-to-Know Law and Freedom of Information request from The Telegraph. The release comes two weeks after the New Hampshire Supreme

Court ruled that the NHRS must identify its top 500 earners.

In 2010, 25 employees earned a government pension of at least $100,000 or $2,500 a week.

But a review of all the listed names and benefit amounts reveals that the big pension benefits groups are about much smaller numbers.

There were 781 who got at least $50,000 a year. More than twice the number making at least $50,000 or more got between $40,000 and $50,000 (1,881).

Some 8,673 pensioners - less than a third of all benefit earners - got a pension benefit of at least $20,000 a year.

And 14,913, or about 60 percent are those who receive a pension, got at least $10,000.

The number of those collecting benefits in the system changes over time. That's why the number collecting throughout 2010 is lower than the 27,100 who were getting a pension as of last July 1, said Marty Karlon, spokesman for NHRS.

Nearly 1,000 recipients got a yearly benefit of less than $1,000.

Karlon explained there are a variety of reasons for small benefits beyond someone who barely worked the minimum amount of time for little salary to qualify for a pension.

Other examples include someone receiving a portion of a pension through a beneficiary estate or former spouse getting a pension chunk as part of a child support agreement, Karlon added.

Two weeks ago, the state Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision that the need for public transparency outweighed concerns over personal privacy of the government retirees in releasing 500 top earners as the Union Leader of New Hampshire sought in a lawsuit.

A week after releasing the top earners, system officials produced the entire list in response to requests for all the benefit amounts paid to individuals.

The Telegraph last week produced a user-friendly online database to search the top 500 pension earners.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com; also check out Kevin Landrigan (@KLandrigan) on Twitter and don't forget The Telegraph's new, interactive live feed at www.nashuatelegraph.com/topics/livefeed.