Overtime problem persists in Topeka; pension spiking costs all taxpayers

An Open Records request to the City of Topeka shows that overtime problems persisted in 2014, with an 11 percent increase to $2.3 million. The highest payout of $70,701 went to Foreperson James Page; the second highest payout of $49,150 went to Foreperson Peter Vobach.

Total payroll for 2014 was $64.9 million, representing an increase of $2.2 million or 3.5%. Interestingly, City Manager James Colson was the second highest paid employee at $176,789. The highest paid employee was Utilities Superintendent Donald Rankin, at $179,102.

Rankin was paid $98,297 in 2013, so KPI staff asked if the increase might be related to large payouts of unused sick leave upon retirement, which is a way of ‘spiking’ pensions. Here is the response we received: “…please be advised that the Kansas Open Records Act does not require a municipality to answer questions. However, generally speaking differences in total pay between years could be attributed to hire date, promotions, demotions, reclassifications, terminations, pay adjustments, etc.”

Given Rankin’s pay history ($93,744 in 2010, $95,185 in 2011, $95,765 in 2012 and $98,297 in 2013), it’s more likely that the large increase last year was due to payout of vacation and sick leave (we know it wasn’t overtime). Employees hired prior to 1993 can have their pensions based on the final three years of base pay or the four highest years of total pay. Rankin’s average base pay over the last three years was $98,201 (assuming his base was increased to $100,000 last year) but his four-year average of total pay was $117,087. If Rankin retired with 30 years of service, his annual pension under the 4-year average would be $61,471…or $10,010 more than he would get with a 3-year average. Over 20 years, pension spiking would therefore cost taxpayers $200,200 for just one employee.

State and local government routinely makes large payouts of unused sick leave when employees retire. Sick leave is a benefit to be used when needed. It is not an entitlement that taxpayers should have to fund and certainly shouldn’t be used to spike pensions. Legislators should take steps to end pension spiking and large payouts of unused sick leave.

The complete payroll listing and overtime listing is posted on KansasOpenGov.org under Local Government.