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NH tells 5 to repay $1.3m in pensions

New Hampshire Sunday News

May 26. 2012 8:50PM

The New Hampshire Retirement System is trying to recoup more than $1.3 million from five retirees for alleged pension overpayments and missed contributions because of jobs they took after retiring.

In each case, the NHRS decided the pensioner took a job that should have required him to pay into the system and stop receiving his pension, according to NHRS spokesman Marty Karlon.

Donald Belyea, a retired Meredith police officer who is the court security supervisor for Belknap County, has been asked to pay back $463,758, according to NHRS letters to the retirees and documents obtained Friday through a right-to-know request.

The recoupment cases date back five years, and the totals do not include health care premiums.

'The NHRS has determined that you initially retired from a Group II position, but immediately accepted a new NHRS covered position with mandatory NHRS enrollment,' according to the Jan. 29, 2010, letter to Belyea from Denise M. Call, NHRS Employer Services.

New Hampshire Retirement System retirees can work any amount of hours for any non-NHRS employer, public or private, Karlon said.

And they can work 'part time' for an NHRS-participating employer. Although state law added a definition for 'part time' last year, the five cases involve issues raised before that change, Karlon said.

NHRS told Belyea that from 1996 to 2010, he owes $40,838 for member contributions not made on the $479,050 he earned during that time. Since Belyea wasn't entitled to the $422,920 he received in pension payments through September 2009, the letter said, he must pay it back.

Belyea's case is under administrative appeal. Attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.

'The repayment may be made by lump sum or in increments over 26 years, once your pension resumes,' NHRS told Belyea.

Belyea's employer, Belknap County, must repay its employee contribution of $42,571 for him, the letter said. And overpaid health care premiums for Belyea totaling $70,346 is recoverable by reducing a future medical subsidy payment to the county, the letter said.

Belknap County Sheriff Lt. David Perkins said since litigation with the NHRS, Belyea has limited his hours to 30 a week. Before that, he worked 40 hours a week, but was paid by the county for 32 hours, and for eight hours by the state Administrative Office of the Courts, Perkins said.

'Don's a great guy,' Perkins said. 'He worked all those years for his retirement and now it is up in the air.'

Two others of the five retirees asked to make repayments totaling $1,355,849, not counting health care premiums, also work for Belknap County.

Rep. David Russell, R-Gilmaton Iron Works, vice chairman of the Belknap County Delegation, said he knew nothing about the potential repayment costs to the county. 'I'd better do some snooping,' Russell said.

Delegation Chairman Rep. Alida Millham, R-Gilford, said she, too, had no knowledge of the county's potential liability.

'I would like to know more about it and am going to make sure I find out,' Millham said.

Karlon said although the retirees have been notified they must repay, they still might prevail through two levels of appeal within NHRS. If not satisfied then, they can appeal directly to the state Supreme Court, he said.

Retired Meredith police Officer John Egan, now community services coordinator for Belknap County, has been asked to repay $284,248. Attempts to reach Egan were unsuccessful.

Retired Belmont police Office Brian Loanes, now the director of the Belknap County's Restorative Justice Program, has been asked to repay $248,505, according to the NHRS letter to him. Loanes did not return phone messages.

Mark A. Pearson, a retired Salem police officer who left his job as Hudson's assistant town administrator for a similar job in Maine, has been asked to repay $280,935.

Hampstead Fire Chief Michael Carrier, who retired from Londonderry's fire department after 27 years of service, has been asked to repay $78,403, the only recoupment case of the five that has previously been made public.

Carrier has already appealed to the state Supreme Court.

The Sunday News has learned that Carrier has notified Hampstead and the Local Government Center, which was hired by the town to recommend a new fire chief, that he is 'seriously considering' suing them for advice he received when hired.

Carrier said he didn't believe he was required to belong to the New Hampshire Retirement System in his new position because he was appointed to a fixed term.

'I vetted this throughout the process with the town and LGC,' Carrier said.

A 2009 letter from LGC to Hampstead unanimously recommended Carrier for the position.

'Mr. Carrier is currently receiving a Group II pension from the NHRS. Consequently, he will need to be appointed to a fixed term in Hampstead in order not to jeopardize his pension,' Barry L. Cox of LGC told Hampstead in a letter dated Jan. 12, 2009.

The law allows for several exceptions. Pension membership is optional for certain appointed or elected officials, Karlon said.

'The legal question in (Carrier's) case is whether the exception for officials appointed for fixed terms takes precedence over the requirement that 'any person who becomes a permanent fireman ... shall become a member of the retirement system,'' wrote the NHRS hearings examiner, Carolyn Johnson, last September. Johnson recommended moving ahead with Carrier's recoupment.

Carrier said: 'It's an unfortunate situation I have to deal with. There has been no intention to circumvent the rules or the law. It's a simple matter of differing opinion.'

A May 2009 letter to Glenn Libby, the superintendent of Grafton County Jail, said he would have to repay $117,891 for 2008 and 2009 pension overpayments and contributions, but the NHRS Board of Trustees last year endorsed the hearings examiner's recommendation to dismiss the case. The letters and documents obtained by Sunday News did not explain why it was dismissed.

Two other cases in the last five years were closed because the retirees agreed to repay the money.

Brookline Police Chief William Quigley, a retired state trooper, agreed to repay $20,054 because he misunderstood how to define 'part time.''

Quigley ultimately changed his work status from part time to full time, stopped his pension and received a raise from the town to $85,000 a year. But it is still $35,000 less than what he received annually when he got his pension, Quigley said.

'It's been difficult,' Quigley said.

James Hayes, chief coordinator of the Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid, was asked to repay $15,007. Hayes' case was closed by repayment, Karlon said.

Karlon said the system has two auditors to make sure all are in compliance. It also investigates anonymous tips and issues raised in news articles.

Since Group II retirees are made up mostly of police, firefighters and corrections officers, they may be more likely to seek employment after retiring because they can retire at age 45 after 20 years. That changed last July for new hires to allow for retirement after 25 years at age 52-/2, Karlon said.

The retirement board recommends people investigate before they make retirement decisions.

'When people retire, we encourage them to call us if they are not sure,' Karlon said.

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