The election for sheriff in Mercer County has turned into a referendum on New Jersey’s costly tradition of double-dipping by public officials.
With a campaign slogan of “One Sheriff, One Paycheck,” Republican challenger David C. Jones is targeting the dual incomes of Democratic incumbent Jack Kemper.
“I believe double-dipping is wrong,” Jones told New Jersey Watchdog. “I think this is an important issue for everybody in the state.”
Jones said he’s ready to put his money where his mouth is. If elected, the retired State Police major pledged to stop collecting his $90,648 a year public pension while in office.
“I believe elected officials should be held to a higher standard,” Jones said.
Kemler did not respond to a request for comment.
What Mercer County decides in the November election could signal an end to a widespread practice.
Jones cited a New Jersey Watchdog investigation revealing 80 percent of sheriffs are double-dipping. In 17 of the state’s 21 counties, the sheriffs collect state pensions as law enforcement retirees in addition to their six-figure salaries.
Kemler retired as Mercer County undersheriff in January 2009. One month later, the county rehired Kemler as the sheriff’s chief warrant officer. He was appointed acting sheriff in 2010. The following year, he was elected sheriff.
The two undersheriffs hired by Kemler also are getting dual checks.
Undersheriffs Pedro Medina and James Freeman each pocket $116,733 a year in county pay. In addition, Medina gets $78,024 a year from his public pension as a retired Trenton cop, and Freeman receives $42,768 a year as a Juvenile Justice Commission retiree.
New Jersey Watchdog’s investigation last year also found 29 double-dipping undersheriffs.
Overall, the 46 sheriffs and undersheriffs received $8.3 million a year — $3.4 million in public retirement pay plus $4.9 million in salaries. On average, they raked in $181,033 a year — $107,145 in county pay and $73,888 from pension.
Jones promised neither he nor his undersheriffs would be double-dippers.
“If Mercer County voters are upset about double-dipping, they have a way of doing something about it,” said Jones. “They can make a statement.”
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