As city officials scramble to find methods for cutting back on the budget and tightening expenditures, several aldermen are pointing toward consultant salaries as a place where the city can spend less money.
A new bill introduced by the Board of Aldermen will call into question whether retired city staff members — employees who have earned pension for their years working for the city — should be allowed to return to work as consultants, continuing to collect retirement funds while simultaneously receiving another salary from the city government.
Aldermen Jorge Perez, Robert Lee, Andrea Jackson-Brooks and Allan Brison, the sponsors of the bill, said the practice should be analyzed more closely. They assert that former employees who receive high amounts of pension funds — retirement benefits that are plentiful enough on which to live comfortably — can return to work and receive the same amount of money as before, without relinquishing any of their retirement income. The practice, dubbed “double-dipping,” was limited to two 120-day windows by Gov. M. Jodi Rell for state employees in February.
“Taxpayers have a right to wonder who really benefits when these 120-day contracts — which are supposed to be used sparingly and only in extraordinary circumstances — become a matter of routine,” Rell said in a Feb. 10 statement, “especially for ex-employees who are already drawing sizable state pensions.”
In New Haven, the aldermen will not be able to adequately discuss the issue of “double-dipping” until the city government hands over documents showing just how many city employees currently receive both pensions and consultant salaries. That information may not be available for several months, Perez said. Only once the Board of Aldermen is able to review the records of “double-dipped” salaries can they then make decisions on whether to amend the city’s current policy, Perez said.
Legislation to limit this practice may take the form of requiring a consultant to hold off on collecting retirement after his work with the city is finished, or perhaps decreasing the number of hours a consultant receiving retirement benefits can work. Currently, most consultants are not allowed to work for more than 19 hours in a week.
“I’m not saying anybody should be terminated or fired,” Perez, the Ward 5 alderman, said. “But hard times require us to think differently, to put this issue on the table and look see if this is the best way for us to do things.”
Other aldermen are not so convinced that dispensing with “double-dipping” would be the wisest choice for the city. Some, like Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah, say the legislation could do more harm than hurt by discouraging former city employees from returning to work for the city, even if their services are necessary. Shah, the chair of the Aldermanic Finance Committee, said he was asked to sign onto the bill, but decided against it because he was concerned that it would occasionally disqualify the most-qualified people from fulfilling certain jobs.
“I believe the city deserves to have the right to pick and choose who they feel they need to bring back to work because of their expertise,” Shah said. “We need to be able to contract these people, for the sake of having the right people in the right place for the people New Haven.”
The “double-dipping” case will be assigned to a committee — either the Finance Committee or the City Services and Environmental Policy Committee — by the end of the week. Public hearings will likely begin in several months.