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Safety Harbor fire chief collects retirement, regular pay

SAFETY HARBOR — On Nov. 30, 2002, fire Chief Jay Stout retired after 29 years on the job.

But there were no speeches, banners or parties for the then-54-year-old.

Thirty-three days later, he was back at his desk making the same salary he did before his departure: $76,482 per year.

At the same time, Stout began receiving pension checks from the Florida State Retirement System which, with regular increases, now total $4,903.11 per month, including a $150 per month health insurance subsidy.

Through the years, Stout's annual salary rose steadily and is currently $99,798. He still draws the pension checks, which means he brings in $158,634 per year before taxes.

Still, he said, "I do not consider myself'' a double-dipper.

By comparison, City Manager Matt Spoor makes $112,320 annually.

What spurred Stout, now 60, to resign seven years ago was the knowledge that he could remain in the Deferred Retirement Option Program, called DROP, part of the Florida Retirement System, for only five years before rules dictated he had to leave employment. DROP is a one-time payment created to encourage senior employees to retire, making way for younger, lower-paid employees.

His DROP accrued benefit payout was $206,866.69.

So he retired, for at least 30 days as the law requires.

But Stout said he wanted to continue working so he could keep receiving health benefits.

So he applied for a job as a fire inspector in South Pasadena and for a position in Jacksonville Beach.

He was ready to make a move when former City Manager Wayne Logan offered him the chance to stay and checked with City Attorney Alan Zimmet to make sure no laws would be broken if he did.

Logan and Zimmet concluded the maneuver not only was legal, but "it benefited both parties,'' Stout said.

In a prepared statement, Spoor said Stout's retirement and reinstatement, although a boon to Stout, has resulted in a cost savings to the city.

"Prior to Chief Stout's retirement, the city was contributing approximately 21 percent of his annual salary to FRS,'' he wrote in an e-mail to the Times. "When Chief Stout returned, he was enrolled in the city's 401(a) plan, saving the city approximately 13 percent per year.''

Personnel director Bill Cropsey said it's possible the city could have hired a new fire chief "at a lower salary but it's hard to know'' without having evaluated potential candidates.

The city opted out of the Florida Retirement System in 1996.

Last month, the Senate Community Affairs Committee began an effort to stop double dipping public officials from collecting a paycheck and a pension by approving a bill to put an end to the practice.

Stout was hired by the city as a firefighter in 1973, and his pay was $242 every two weeks, or $6,292 annually. He was promoted to fire inspector a year later and was named fire chief in 1976.

His education includes a bachelor of arts degree from Eckerd College and extensive training in arson investigation, fire prevention and hazardous materials response. He oversees 34 employees.

"Chief Stout has been a dedicated and professional employee,'' Spoor said. "Much is owed to his years of service to the city of Safety Harbor.''

Stout said he plans to retire again "in June or before but not because of the newspaper story.''

"I'm going to do some kayaking," he said, "and spend time with my wife.''

Reach Eileen Schulte at schulte@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

Safety Harbor fire chief collects retirement, regular pay 04/09/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 9, 2009 8:28pm]

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