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St. Petersburg overpays pensions for 71 police officers

ST. PETERSBURG — A clerical error could cost the city more than $1 million in pension benefits for 71 police officers.

The miscalculation, caused by a computer-programming mistake, had been going on since 2008 until it was discovered last year. In that time, 71 officers retired or entered the Deferred Retirement Option Plan and were overpaid $217,000.

Mayor Bill Foster is asking the City Council to approve a settlement that would allow the officers to continue to receive the higher payments — meaning the mistake will cost taxpayers roughly $87,000 a year for several decades.

The officers retired based upon erroneous calculations and could have retired later in order to earn higher benefits. The officers must sign statements saying they "detrimentally relied" on the pension calculations when making their decisions.

The city already has repaid the $217,000 to the police pension board.

The error occurred when staffers updated the pension-calculation system in 2007 to include up to 100 overtime hours in the payouts. Officers pensions are based on salaries earned in the last three years of work.

The mistake came to light in February 2011 when a staffer reviewed benefits for Lorraine Yaslowitz, whose husband, Jeffrey, died along with Tom Baitinger when a gunman hiding in an attic shot both officers on Jan. 24, 2011.

At that time, the computer should have calculated Yaslowitz's overtime back to January 2008, but the figure went back to 2004. The city then notified the pension board.

In the following three months, staff reviewed retiree calculations between 2004 and 2011 and found pensions for 71 officers had been miscalculated.

To solve the problem, the pension board requested the officers change their payment options, the amount paid to a beneficiary, or return to work to earn additional pension credits.

With those being the only choices, the city reached the settlement to pay the money, said Gary Cornwell, the human resources director.

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.

St. Petersburg overpays pensions for 71 police officers 07/20/12 [Last modified: Friday, July 20, 2012 11:49pm]

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