Opinion: Mercer County sheriff race brings pension double-dipping to voters

By Times of Trenton guest opinion column
on August 18, 2014 at 6:08 AM, updated August 18, 2014 at 7:16 AM


By Bill Schluter

It is not often that members of the public have an opportunity to express their feelings in a direct and meaningful manner about a major issue facing New Jersey. However, voters in Mercer County can do so this November, when they cast their ballot for sheriff.

One candidate running for sheriff, Republican David Jones, has taken a stand of courage and self-sacrifice by opposing the double-dipping practice of collecting a state pension while also receiving a salary for service in another public office: He has said he will forego his pension if elected sheriff.

This distinguishes Jones from his opponent, incumbent Mercer County Sheriff Jack Kemler, who collects an annual pension from the Police and Firemens’ Retirement System fund of $85,000 in addition to his compensation as sheriff of $145,000, a total of $230,000 per year.

Jones further pledges to save taxpayers even more money by refusing to hire undersheriffs and/or directors who double-dip. One undersheriff and one director on Kemler’s staff collect two forms of compensation: pension payments and a current salary. Total pension payments going to those employed in the sheriff’s office amount to $249,000 per year.

Seventeen of the 21 county sheriffs in New Jersey collect both a pension and sheriff’s pay, while an additional 29 officers who work for sheriffs are also double-dippers. Nothing is illegal about collecting from both sources; pension payments represent a contractual entitlement earned by those who served as public officials.

The problem regarding pensions is that because of past mismanagement, the solvency of the system is in crisis. And David Jones is doing what he can to alleviate the crisis.

There are two fundamental reasons why the office of county sheriff in the Garden State is a magnet that draws retirees with high pensions. First, there is an affinity for law enforcement officers serving on local police forces or with the State Police to gravitate to the more visible law enforcement position of sheriff. And second, the pension systems in which regular police and state police are enrolled make lucrative payouts to retirees. These systems award full pensions at 65 percent of an officer’s final salary plus family health benefits after only 25 years of service.

Candidate David Jones has had a distinguished career in the New Jersey State Police, retiring in 2013 as a major after 27 years of service. This gives him exceptional qualifications for extending his career in law enforcement. In his retirement from the State Police, Jones is entitled to a yearly pension of just under $91,000. But recognizing the many pension abuses visited upon the public by retiring public officials, Jones will suspend his pension payments while he serves as sheriff, if he is elected.

Some might say that the pension savings of one sheriff and several undersheriffs are small when compared to all the pension extravagances taking place in New Jersey. But isn’t it because of the multiplicity of pension excesses that the unfunded liability of state pensions has grown to the point where sustainability of the system is in jeopardy?

The attitude taken by this one man is that reform has to start somewhere. This is not a Republican or Democratic issue; it is a public issue. Of all the sheriffs and sheriff candidates across the state, David Jones is the one who will take a stand and give up his pension to send a message to our lawmakers and citizens. He deserves the gratitude — and support — of all New Jerseyans who have had enough and want to see the failures of our government corrected.

Thank you, Mr. Jones, for your leadership in setting such a high standard of conduct for a government official.

Bill Schluter of Pennington, a Republican, is a former state senator from District 23.


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