New Jersey voters can’t change double-dippers with elections

By Mark Lagerkvist | New Jersey Watchdog

Eighty percent of New Jersey’s county sheriffs are double-dippers. Next month’s election will do little, if anything, to change that fact.

HARD HIT: Even if New Jersey voters want to stop sheriffs across the state from double-dipping, Novembers election will do little, if anything, to change it.

HARD HIT: Even if New Jersey voters want to stop sheriffs across the state from double-dipping, Novembers election will do little, if anything, to change it.

A New Jersey Watchdog investigation found that 17 of the 21 sheriffs collect state pensions as law enforcement retirees in addition to their six-figure salaries. Their payrolls include 29 undersheriffs who are also double-dipping.

Overall, those 46 top cops rake in $8.3 million a year – $3.4 million in retirement pay plus $4.9 million in salaries.  (Click here for complete list.)  On average, they get $181,033 a year – $107,145 in county pay and $73,888 from pension.

Ten counties will elect sheriffs on Nov. 5, but voters in eight of those counties will be stuck with a double-dipper no matter what.

In five counties – Bergen, Passaic, Middlesex, Morris and Hunterdon – either major party candidate, if elected, would join the ranks of twin-scoopers. Here are the current sheriff salaries and the annual state retirement pay received by each contender:

Bergen County, $138,000 salary. Incumbent Republican Michael Saudino, $129,984 pension; Democrat James Mordaga, $75,600 pension.

Passaic County, $151,887 salary. Incumbent Democrat Richard Berdnik, $102,060 pension; Republican Frank Feenan, $101,460 pension.

Middlesex County, $129,950 salary. Incumbent Democrat Mildred Scott, $61,248 pension; Republican Jose A. Martinez, $78,060 pension.

Morris County, $129,636 salary. Incumbent Republican Edward Rochford, $61,452 pension; Democrat Mark Dombrowski, $48,252 disability pension.

Hunterdon County, $109,185 salary. Incumbent Republican Frederick Brown, $81,828 pension; Democrat Paul Carluccio, $29,172 pension.

In three counties – Union, Warren and Sussex – the double-dipping incumbents are unopposed.

For the other two counties – Ocean and Somerset – the outcome is not as automatic.

Ocean County voters will decide on a successor to the late Sheriff William Pohemus, who died last December. Pohemus drew $122,669 in salary plus $43,272 from pension. Acting Sheriff William Sommeling, who collects $89,000 in salary and $27,540 from pension, is not running.

If elected sheriff, Republican nominee Michael Mastronardy almost is certain to retire as Toms River police chief to start collecting a six-figure pension. Democratic opponent George “Bob” Armstrong gets a modest pension – $7,836 a year from the five years he worked at the State Commission on Investigation.

In Somerset County, GOP incumbent Frank Provenzano receives a $75,924 pension on top of his $124,910 salary. Democratic challenger Richard Arline (D) is the only major party candidate in this year’s sheriff elections who does not receive a state pension, but he is a longshot in a county dominated by Republicans.

Because of loopholes, the practice of double-dipping by law enforcement officials is generally legal in New Jersey. The system offers strong economic incentives for officers to retire at a full pension at a relatively young age – often in their 40s – and then return to the public payroll for a second income.

“It’s not appropriate,” Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Red Bank, told New Jersey Watchdog earlier this year. “The pension system is intended to support you at a time you are no longer working.”

A reform proposal co-sponsored by Beck would end most of the double-dipping. If enacted, Senate Bill 601 would suspend state pension payments to retirees who return to public jobs that pay more than $15,000 a year. Their retirement benefits would resume after they permanently leave public employment.

The measure has been trapped in committee and unable to reach the floor for a vote since it was first introduced in February 2011.

Meanwhile, state pension funds — which face a $47.2 billion deficit — continue to be drained by retirement payouts to government workers who are still employed.

“You’re really destroying the fabric of the pension system,” Beck said. “You just can’t afford to do this stuff.”

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