SANTA FE (AP) - A pension fund that represents state and local government retirees is asking six retired managers from the city of Santa Fe to repay thousands of dollars they received when they were overpaid for more than a year because of an error that went unnoticed.
The workers say city officials initially told them the city would make good on mistakes it made in reporting income to the Public Employees Retirement Association, The Santa Fe New Mexican reported (http://bit.ly/HsLsTF ). But they subsequently learned that if they want to recoup the cash, they'll have to file lawsuits, they said.
All the affected employees participated in a city incentive that allows workers to stop reporting for duty, but to keep collecting a paycheck for a predetermined amount of their unused sick leave and vacation.
At the end of that period, and just before each employee switched to receiving retirement pension checks instead of city paychecks, a payroll clerk made adjustments to the amount of sick and annual leave, said City Finance Director Mel Morgan.
It resulted in negative numbers in an electronic file sent to pension fund. The fund's computer system read them as positive numbers, which added a substantial amount of reported income on each worker's final check.
Mary Frederick, deputy executive director of the pension fund, said the pension fund can't comment on the matter except to say that it's "not a PERA issue."
"This is an issue between the employees and their employers," she said. "This is a trust fund, and if there was money that was paid in error, we have to collect that. We don't have any discretion in that."
For Ted Bolleter, a former assistant Santa Fe fire chief, the mistake meant he had to take more than $6,000 out of his daughter's college fund to repay pension fund. He said he understands that he shouldn't have received the money in the first place, but he feels penalized because he didn't cause the problem.
"According to the city, the only way they can pay us back is through a settlement, so we have to actually sue the city to do that," he said. "I understand that what is fair is fair, but their mistake cost me $6,200, plus the headaches."
Gary Johnson, a former police captain, said he decided not to repay the pension fund right away because he hoped the city would intervene. He learned Wednesday that he has two weeks to make a payment of $6,046.
"I really thought the city would step up and do what I would say is the right thing," he said. "Everyone is pointing the finger at each other. I have not heard anything official from the city or from PERA."
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