CONCORD, N.H. — Police and firefighters top the list of the highest pension earners for the New Hampshire Retirement System, with former Dover police chief William Fenniman at the top, receiving $135,878 in 2010.
The list of the state’s top pensioners is dominated by emergency responders serving the state’s largest communities, including Manchester, Nashua, Londonderry and Salem. Many are former fire and police chiefs.
The lists of the 500 highest pensions paid by the retirement system in 2009 and 2010 were released last week after the state Supreme Court ruled the pensions and the names of the retirees were public information.
The Union Leader Corp. filed a right-to-know request in February 2010 seeking the information.
Retired Manchester Police Department captain Richard Valenti earned the second-highest pension — $133,633. Retired Manchester fire chief Joseph Kane was fourth, receiving $119,646; former Portsmouth police chief Michael Magnant was third, with $121,334.
Douglas McDonald, retired as superintendent of the Timberlane Regional School District, is one of only two non-police or firefighters to make the top 35.
His $107,017 payment for 2010 ranked him 10th. In the 35th spot is Coos County Administrator Suzanne Collins, whose $93,281 represents the highest benefit for a state, county or local public employee who is not an educator.
Also in the top 35 are Department of Corrections Commissioner William Wrenn, who received $99,042 in pension payments in 2010.
He retired as Hampton police chief in 2006 to become corrections commissioner, with a current salary of $116,170.
The two highest pensions for teachers were Leslie Carter, Merrimack School District, $92,239, and Roger Brooks, Concord School District, $91,521.
19 topped $100,000
There were 19 pensions greater than $100,000; 14 were police officers, four were firefighters and one was a school superintendent.
Two retired Manchester police captains received more than $100,000, Richard Tracy ($107,692) and Marc Lussier ($100,228).
Tracy’s salary in 2007 with the Manchester Police Department was $123,771. He currently is a criminal investigator in the Attorney General’s Office.
Also in the top tier is longtime Nashua fire chief Michael Buxton, who received $109,528.
Social Security payments
Police and firefighters belong to Group 2 and do not contribute to Social Security, so they receive a greater benefit, retirement system spokesman Marty Karlon said.
Group 2 members pay a higher percentage of their salaries into the retirement system, but can — until next year — retire after 20 years of service.
Firefighters currently contribute 11.8 percent of their salaries and police 11.5 percent.
Before July 1, both police and firefighters contributed 9.3 percent.
Group 1 members include educators and state, county and municipal workers, who do pay into the Social Security system.
Group 1 members currently pay 7 percent of their salaries into the retirement system and can retire after 30 years of service until Jan. 1.
Prior to July 1, Group 1 members contributed 5 percent of their salaries.
Heading the list
Fenniman’s pension was controversial because — in an agreement he had with the Dover city manager — it included $190,000 for unused leave in the final year as Dover police chief.
His base salary was about $114,000 when he retired in 2007.
When he retired, severance packages, retirement bonuses and “cash outs” of unused vacation or sick time could be included in the formula to determine a member’s retirement benefit.
The benefit was based on the three highest-earning years and length of time a member contributed to the system.
While some communities have policies allowing workers to cash in their unused time, others do not.
Beginning next year, the communities that do will begin paying additional money into the system.
Soon after he retired, Fenniman was named director of the Division of Juvenile Justice Services at the Department of Health and Human Services, where his salary was $98,691. He resigned earlier this year.
Karlon noted state unclassified employees, which include department commissioners and division directors who serve a defined term, are exempt and do not have to contribute to the retirement system.
If they do not contribute, they can draw their pensions as well as their salary.
This year, lawmakers changed the formula determining benefits to use the five highest-earning years.
End-of-career severance and unused vacation or sick time or retirement bonuses are no longer included. The changes are effective Jan. 1. Retirees also have to work longer before they receive their full retirement benefit.
Retirees on the 2010 pension list all had their benefits determined under the old formula.
The top 500 retiree pensions include a number of former Manchester police chiefs: John Jaskolka, $93,131; Mark Driscoll, $79,162; and Louis Craig, $61,916; and former Manchester fire chief Robert DeCotis, $70,697.
Two longtime Dover officials are also in the top 500, including former police chief Charles Reynolds, $92,937, and former fire chief David Bibber, $98,896.
A number of former heads of the State Police are among the top 500 pensions: Lynn Presby, $82,856; Frederick Booth, $81,834; George Iverson, $82,233; Gary Sloper, $66,548; and Paul O’Leary $58,988.
Former Concord fire chief and current Director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security for the state, Christopher Pope, is among the top 500 pensioners earning $74,934 last year.
Among former state unclassified employees collecting pensions are safety commissioner Richard Flynn, receiving $97,158; administrative services commissioner Don Hill, $81,784; revenue administration commissioner George Blatsos, $60,206; transportation commissioner Carol Murray, $59,114; health and human services controller James Fredyma, $64,523, and motor vehicles director Virginia Beecher, $60,854.
Former head of enforcement for Fish and Game and longtime lawmaker Henry Mock received a pension of $81,110.
In 2010, the top 500 pensions ranged from a high of $135,878 to a low of $57,399, and in 2009 the range was from $135,428 to $55,414.
A 1.5 percent cost-of-living raise for the first $30,000 is included in the 2010 benefits, Karlon said.
(c)2011 The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.)
Distributed by MCT Information Services