Merger of police services in San Mateo County creates salary double-dipping for some officers

As cities such as Half Moon Bay and San Carlos outsource police services to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, the change could give some officers an overnight income boost.

The day before San Carlos handed its law enforcement to the sheriff to save $2 million per year, Chief Greg Rothaus retired and started drawing a $131,976 a year pension, according to CalPERS, the state retirement system that serves 1.6 million public employees.

Then on Nov. 1, he became captain of the Sheriff’s Office’s new San Carlos bureau, doing essentially the same job at a salary of $153,192, according to the county, for a combined total of $285,168 annually.

Also, one of Rothaus’ new bosses, Undersheriff Carlos Bolanos, draws a pension of $151,497 as the former Redwood City police chief, on top of his $171,662 county salary, for a total of $323,159, according to CalPERS and county officials.

The two are examples of a legal practice critics have termed “double-dipping,” drawing a pension from one government agency while simultaneously earning a salary at another.

Rothaus and Bolanos, who did not return calls seeking comment, both contributed to their pensions and could have retired even if they hadn’t gone to the Sheriff’s Office.

But the Sheriff’s Office takeover provided a transition to a similar job and a potentially substantial income boost.

Critics say double-dipping is a strain on the state pension system, giving employees an incentive to retire earlier and start drawing pensions sooner.

“The longer you can wait, for a defined-benefit plan, for people to start drawing on your plan, it’s like money in the bank,” said Marcia Fritz, president of the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, a pension reform group.

Gov. Jerry Brown has made “limits on post-retirement public employment” one of his priorities in a 12-point pension reform plan.

Fritz said there should be more restrictions on public retirees who go back to work, such as in Social Security, whose beneficiaries have to pay back $1 to Social Security for every $2 they make above $14,160 per year.

CalPERS retirees who go back to work for cities that use CalPERS must be temporary and work restricted hours.

But while cities in San Mateo County use CalPERS, the county has its own system, so retirees can go from one to the other and still earn a full salary.

San Carlos Assistant City Manager Brian Moura said there is an upside for the city: retaining good employees. A county employee must work for at least five years to be vested in the pension system.

“We’d encourage Greg to work for us at least five more years,” Moura said.

The number of local employees who are double-dipping is unclear, as CalPERS and the county pension system don’t share information about retirees.

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