by Amanda Chin
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WZTV) — Part-time Nashville employees already in retirement are collecting around $13 million from taxpayers, which includes monthly pension checks as a part of a program called STEP (Starting to Enjoy Your Pension).
According to public records requests, around 200 Metro employees are receiving taxpayer-funded monthly pensions. They also get to work part-time for millions of taxpayer dollars, with some calling it double-dipping.
“I was interested in why our people in our agency weren’t taking their retirement once they were eligible,” says Sheriff Daron Hall, the Davidson County Sheriff.
Sheriff Hall says that was true for his employees, and he learned it was because folks did not want to lose their identity and half their income.
That’s where the STEP program comes in, where folks can work 19 and a half hours a week, but don’t receive benefits.
More than 50 double-dippers work for the Davidson County Sheriff’s Department and still receive their monthly pension checks.
Adam Andrzejewski with the nonprofit “Open the Books” first looked into this issue and believes this program is horribly expensive for taxpayers.
“It’s an accounting trick that looks good on paper, but taxpayers are paying the freight around every corner. So if you couple up your paid time off and a 100% taxpayer-paid pensions, all of a sudden your full-time workforce is so expensive that the sheriff’s office and Metro Nashville at large have come up with a scheme to transfer the cost of the pension system and hire back the exact same work on a part-time basis,” says Andrzejewski.
“Talk about why you are in favor of this program. How is this both a win-win for employees and taxpayers?” asks FOX 17 News’ Amanda Chin.
“Historically, a retired person would walk away from their job, and take all the knowledge and training with them. This allows that person to stay here with that background. But more importantly, if you’re concerned about the cost, it moves two-thirds of the cost of the employee off of the payroll,” believes Sheriff Hall.
Sheriff Hall’s argument is that it saves the department between $4 and $5 million a year.
“What would your response be to taxpayers who feel like they’re already getting their pension check, so why should they be getting two checks?” asks Chin.
“So they’re at home on retirement, and then you’re asking me to replace them, so do you want me to replace them with a full-time person and a full-time benefit? It would cost more to do that,” says Sheriff Hall.
Andrzejewski feels this program completely discounts the taxpayer’s 100% investment in that pension, and it all comes down to employees shouldering a responsible portion of their lifetime pension costs.
After all, FOX 17 News has learned Metro contributed more than $86 million to pensions in 2021 and more than $600 million since 2014.
“If taxpayers just picked up 50 cents on every dollar, that would save taxpayers $45 million a year. That’s a lot of money to hire and properly staff within the Metro Nashville agencies,” says Andrzejewski.
Taxpayer advocates feel Metro’s pension plan is an insult to those who live in Davidson County, where future taxpayers are going to have to pay this debt.
Even the state of Tennessee switched to employees contributing to their 401ks in 2014, where a spokesperson for the Department of Treasury says the state has saved more than $460 million since the change.
FOX 17 News has been told by the mayor’s office that Metro’s Study and Formulating Committee says Metro’s current defined benefit plan is stable and well-funded.
But is it the right thing to do, and is it fair for taxpayers to guarantee these kinds of retirement benefits?
Other Metro government double dippers come from Metro Police, the district attorney’s office, Metro Water, and Metro Parks.