Can city workers collect government paychecks and pensions simultaneously?

Taxpayers funded $192.7 million last year for the total compensation of state employees collecting both pensions and salaries, in a staggering 47 percent increase from 2010. Data obtained by Gannett’s Albany bureau show that the number of these double dippers rose by 32 percent in 2011, to 2,811, despite Governor Andrew Cuomo’s efforts to trim government fat.

The state has taken measures to curb double payments by state payrolls and pension funds. New York law requires the state to suspend pensions of retirees under age 65 who earn more than $30,000 in a public-sector job. But state government workers can get what is known as a 211 waiver to exceed the $30,000 salary limit, authorized under Section 211 of the state Retirement and Social Security Law.

But can city workers get away with this? The New York World would like to know: Does New York City allow employees to collect city paychecks and pensions simultaneously?

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What we’ve found

City employees are treated no differently than state employees when it comes to double dipping, and are subject to the same state laws.

Former city and state employees can get rehired without permission if their reported gross wages are below $30,000. Unless an employer files for a 211 waiver, any city or state employee found collecting annual gross wages of over $30,000 while also receiving pension payments will have their pensions suspended for a year.

“This is the case even if we find it’s one cent over $30,000,” said Karen Mazza, general counsel of the New York City Employees’ Retirement System, which oversees pensions for many city workers. “We’re always watching our pensioners to make sure of that, and if they qualify for rehiring, we keep track of them.” After that one year suspension, they can be re-evaluated for a waiver.

To apply for a 211 waiver, an employee must submit an application to the State Civil Service Commission demonstrating “that there’s something special about you,” added Mazza. As explained in the commission guidelines, the employee needs to be uniquely qualified for a necessary position that no non-retiree can fill.

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