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PERS info made public

Retired Nye County officials are drawing lucrative pensions in their twilight years, some as high as $7,000 per month, according to information posted on the website Transparency Nevada.

The Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank, published the pensions of 49,073 retired state and local government employees online last week. The NPRI found 1,054 retired public employees will receive more than $100,000 this year in retirement benefits through the Public Employees Retirement System. Over half will collect more than $2,642 per month, or $31,704 annually. The pensions were compared to the state’s median annual household income of $54,083.

A search of different employees showed retired public safety workers often received higher pensions. Johanna Cody, who previously handled privilege licenses for the Nye County Sheriff’s Office out of Tonopah before taking the county’s early retirement buyout, received $7,495.10 in gross pay for her pension during January. The NPRI cautions against using one month’s benefits to project annual payments because adjustments could be made during the year to lower or raise the annual amount. But multiplying that by 12 months, her annual pension could equal $89,941.20.

Former Nye County Sheriff’s Captain Bill Becht, who retired in September after 24 years with the county, received $7,051.98 gross pay for his pension in January, which would equal $84,623.76 annually.

Becht said he didn’t object to his pension figures being publicized on the Internet, noting the checks cut for their paychecks used to be published in the newspaper every quarter.

“The first couple times I saw it, I said I can’t believe they do it. But you get used to it,” Becht said of the paycheck publications. “I wasn’t sure that was public information.”

Police and fire employees have a different retirement plan than other public employees, he said.

“It’s the stress later on in life that cuts our life span shorter,” Becht said. “We pay more into it than other people because we can retire earlier.”

Though he is retired, Becht announced recently he will run for sheriff in this year’s election. Becht said if he’s elected he could delay his pension until after his four-year term. Elected officials have a different pension plan, he said.

Former county Assessor Sandy Musselman took the buyout in 2010 along with her husband Sam Musselman, a former Geographic Information Systems (GIS) administrator for the public works department. Sandy Musselman had $5,085.40 in gross pension pay in January; Sam Musselman had $4,204.55. Both have been employed in the public sector over 20 years. Their combined monthly household pension amounts to $9,289.95, if they received that same amount over a year it would amount to $111,479.40 annual income.

When asked if he was offended by the posting of his pension on Transparency Nevada, Sam Musselman said, “I don’t know, it doesn’t really matter. I think I earned it. It gives somebody something to do I guess.”

“We’re going to take the heat I guess,” he said.

Sam Musselman thinks there is some resentment about pensions paid to retired public workers after the recession when people lost their jobs and saw their 401k retirement funds dwindling.

Most of corporate America stopped paying employee pensions decades ago, switching to more volatile 401k plans, which are prone to ups and downs depending upon the economy. Also, 401ks can include hidden costs, enriching Wall Street, while cutting into the savings of middle class workers over the long-term. Also no secret — more than half of America’s private sector workers are neither enrolled in a 401k program or set to receive a pension.

“Before that our jobs were petty. They were nothing to what other people were making. But when people lost their jobs and lost their retirement, they look at PERS and say these guys did pretty good,” he said.

When the opportunity came to accept an early retirement buyout from the county in 2010, Sam Musselman, who had bypass surgery the year before, jumped at the chance.

“I tell people we don’t have stupid written across our forehead. When someone makes you an offer like that, you take it,” he said.

Geneva Hollis was a jack-of-all-trades when she worked for Nye County, even filling in as acting county manager on a few occasions, before retiring in 2003. She put in 25 years working in Lyon County and later Nye County. She received $6,326.16 in gross pension in January, that would amount to $75,913.92 annually.

Like Becht, she shrugged off the publication of the pensions, like when their fortnightly paychecks were published in the newspaper.

“I really don’t like it but when we were working they were all published. What I don’t like is the hire dates and retirement dates. It’s too easy to get more information on you and there’s a lot of scams,” Hollis said.

But when it comes to her pension, after all those years of work, Hollis said “I worked for it.”

Among other high pension earners, retired Undersheriff Bill Weldon received $6,033.22 in gross pension pay in January. Retired Nye County sheriff’s detective Travis Huggins received $5,430.46 gross pay in January for his pension. Retired sheriff’s supervisor Bob Balding received $5,0121.87.

Retired sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Grimaud collected $5,251.93 in gross pay, his early retirement buyout benefits of $223,202 in 2011 topped the list of 22 county employees taking the buyout that year. Grimaud had been employed by the county since July 1994.

That same year, Tonopah Justice of the Peace Joe Maslach took advantage of the early retirement buyout, he collected $3,969.46 in gross pay from his pension in January. Former public works supervisor Jerod Ward received gross pay of $4,375.96 from his pension in January, according to Transparency Nevada. Susan Moore, who worked in a number of positions including Nuclear Waste Repository Project Office, received $3,466.86. Theresa Pate, who retired last year as deputy recorder, collected a check for $5,372.94 gross pay on her pension in January. Retired appraiser Myrna Tankersley earned $5,323.45 in January, while retired planning technician Nellie Grossell earned $5,330.57.

The NPRI went to court demanding access to the pension information. The Nevada Supreme Court ordered the benefit information be made public.

“The PERS payouts now available on Transparent Nevada show exactly why PERS bureaucrats worked so hard to keep this secret,” said Andy Matthews, president of NPRI. “The information shows — in inflated retirement payout after inflated retirement payout — what Nevadans have long suspected. Public employee pensions are exorbitant and unsustainable.”

He said the PERS program has an unfunded liability of $41 billion. In a 2013 report, PERS said the average monthly benefit payment was $2,654 for regular employees with an average retirement age of 65, for police and firefighters the average monthly payment was $4,637, with an average retirement age of 59.

Some of the highest paid officials statewide include Former Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, a retired North Las Vegas Fire Department official, with $10,011.45 in January gross pay; former Clark County District Attorney David Roger $11,258.67; Las Vegas City Councilman Stavros Anthony, a former Metropolitan Police Department employee for 29 years, $12,482.71; and, former University of Nevada, Reno head football Coach Chris Ault $22,753.

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