Douglas County's departing chief administrative officer is in line to collect a pension of $70,476 when she retires in February, which would be the highest in Douglas County government.
County officials say Kathleen Kelley's pension is justified, given her leadership responsibilities and longevity with the county.
Kelley, 66, will retire with 24 years of service, including the past 15 as the county's top official. She oversees a budget of about $300 million, a jail, a youth detention facility, a 911 center, a health center and nearly 2,000 county employees.
“It's a tough job,” county personnel director Lee Lazure said. “This is like being a CEO of a company. Kathy has worked awfully hard. Her pension is not exorbitant.”
In addition to her pension, Kelley is entitled to collect at least $13,304 for cashing out unused vacation time.
Kelley accrues five weeks of vacation per year. Her vacation payout won't be calculated into her pension, the county said.
Kelley's pension is based on the average of her last five years of salary, a standard formula for all county employees.
She currently makes about $147,500, one of the highest salaries in county government. Her salary will increase to $150,409 on Jan. 1, after the County Board approved a 2 percent raise for about 300 managers and nonunion workers. Kelley's raise will have virtually no impact on her pension, Lazure said.
County Board member P.J. Morgan, who sits on the pension committee, said he has no complaints about Kelley's pension.
“Kathy has worked hard, and that pension plan was put in place many, many years ago,” Morgan said.
Under the current pension plan, Kelley will receive 2 percent of her pay for every year she worked, putting her pension at about 50 percent of her salary, the county said. The maximum pension is 60 percent of salary.
Board member Mike Boyle said the county plan is a product of a “different era,” when government salaries were much lower and retirement pensions averaged $600 to $700 per month.
For years, county employees contributed 4 percent of their salary toward the pension fund, and the county matched it.
Then, in 1997, the county began allowing employees to draw a pension earlier and started increasing the match and contribution rates. The rates stand at 8.5 percent today.
“She's earned it under the current system, and the employee contributes to it,” Boyle said. “But that system is going away and being modified substantially.”
The pension systems of both Douglas County and the City of Omaha face serious long-term funding issues, although the city's police and fire pension fund remains in much worse shape than the county's plan.
The city plan reached a $610 million shortfall last January. The county's fund had a shortfall of $143.9 million last July, up from $13.3 million in 2001.
County officials say they have taken measures to stabilize the pension plan.
Since July 2011, the county began rolling back pension benefits for new employees. New employees are required to work longer and be older to draw a pension. New employees also will receive a smaller benefit for each year of service, 1.5 percent compared with 2 percent now.
“We have taken action,” said county finance director Joe Lorenz. “It's getting better.”
Over the past five years, the county averaged 58 retirements per year. The average pension is about $2,000 per month with 24 years of county service, the county said. Kelley's, by comparison, will be about $5,875 per month.
Said Lazure: “Kathy Kelley's pension won't break the bank. ... There are no special deals for anybody.”
TOP FIVE DOUGLAS COUNTY PENSIONS
$67,860 Steve Walker Fiscal administrator Years served: 31 Retired: 2011
$67,368 Rudy Tesar Clerk of District Court Years served: 42 Retired: 2007
$64,044 Craig Madsen Sheriff’s captain Years served: 30 Retired: 2010
$61,752 Tim Burns Assistant public defender Years served: 27 Retired: 2011
$61,488 Russ Torres Sheriff’s captain Years served: 27 Retired: November
TOP FIVE CITY OF OMAHA PENSIONS
$127,521 Alex Hayes Police chief Years served: 25 Retired: 2012
$114,405 Steve Jensen Planning director Years served: 34 Retired: 2009
$107,080 Robert Dahlquist Fire chief Years served: 26 Retired: 2007 $105,813 Joe Fuxa Assistant fire chief Years served: 25 Retired: 2008 $104,417 Joseph Tesar Deputy city attorney Years served: 35 Retired: 2008
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