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Investigator Exclusive: Cities pay out millions for incentives, unused benefits

9:55 AM, Nov 4, 2010   |    comments
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The Rocky River City School District gave the most generous early retirement incentives of any school from 2007 through 2009.

The Goldwood Primary School principal got $113,000 to retire early after 35 years of service. Kensington Intermediate School's principal got $104,000.

Superintendent Michael Shoaf said he moved to get rid of the early retirement incentives after he took over.

"It doesn't make economic sense for us, so we stopped it," he said.

Lakewood City Schools paid out the most in early retirement incentives with $2.2 million.

Lyndhurst, meanwhile, shelled out more than $1 million -- the most of any municipality -- even as it closed down a Brainard Pool due to budget constraints.

"Lyndhurst is really high in property taxes as it is," said Michele Cohn, who used to take her children to Brainard Pool. "They shut it down because of money and then you hear that somebody maybe got a bonus instead, it makes you angry."

Channel 3 News found more than 80 school districts and cities in Cuyahoga County paid out more than $63 million in early retirement bonuses and unused sick and vacation time, even as the economy tanked.

School district employees reeled in $38.5 million while city employees took in almost $25 million.

List of school district payouts

List of municipalities' payouts

Newly-elected Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald said throwing big bucks at employees to retire early is a bad deal for taxpayers, and believes state lawmakers will eventually have to examine the issue.

That's because the state requires retiring employees be paid out for a certain amount of unused sick and vacation time.

"If there's going to be a parachute, it shouldn't be a golden parachute," FitzGerald said.

A New Jersey commission last year called payouts to retiring employees for unused sick and vacation time a "gravy train (that) continues to roll without...regard for the common good."

But Lyndhurst Councilman Patrick Ward, who chairs the finance committee, said early retirement buyouts worked for his city because they didn't hire new employees to fill vacant positions.

"Even though it's a million dollars and it sounds like a big number, it's not a big number when you're talking about reducing our payout and the staff at the same time," Ward said.

These payouts have real-world consequences.

Strongsville cut the budgets for police, fire and other departments to fill gaps, even while its paid nearly $750,000 to retirees.

The city's school district, meanwhile, spent nearly $1.8 million on retiring employees.

Strongsville resident Dean Triplett, who pays hundreds of dollars in fees so his daughter can attend school, said it's time for both to address the issue.

"They keep putting it off and putting it off," he said. "We're at that stage now we got to fix it."

Cleveland, meanwhile, is charging for trash pickup and its school district can't help needy students buy uniforms. Together they paid $16 million to retirees.

"It hurts the city," said Don Shury, who pays the most property taxes of any Clevelander. "When they run out of money and they can't get levies passed and can't get things done, then they'll look at things in a business-like way instead of a political way."

Several mayors said they expect the newly elected governor, John Kasich, and state lawmakers will take up the issue next year when they look at pensions.

But FitzGerald said it will be a might be tougher to deal with payouts for unused benefits than pensions because of strong union opposition.

"Unions are not going to agree that they're not going to be paid for unused sick and vacation time," he said.

WKYC-TV

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