Former Sheriff Mark Pazin’s pension from Merced County nears $200,000

02/17/2014 7:39 PM

02/17/2014 10:40 PM

Former Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin will receive more money during his retirement than he did while employed, according to the details of his pension package.

Pazin, who retired in December to accept a job with Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration, will be eligible for a state retirement package after five years of service in Sacramento. Pazin was appointed to head the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services Law Enforcement Branch.

Pazin’s annual pension from Merced County is $199,577.52, according to information obtained through a public records request. Put another way, Pazin will receive $16,631.46 each month.

During his final year as sheriff, Pazin’s annual salary was $163,092.80, said county spokesman Mike North.

Pazin served 33.25 years under the county, according to records from the county’s retirement association. Vacation and sick hours were included in the 57-year-old’s pension.

Maria Arevalo, plan administrator for the Merced County Employees’ Retirement Association, said the county caps the number of hours an employee can use toward his or her pension to 80 hours of vacation and 50 hours of sick leave.

For Pazin, that cap meant an additional $6,272.80 of vacation time and $3,920.50 of sick time were counted in his pension. His pension was also padded by a 160-hour “terminal” vacation payout of $12,545.60.

The 160-hour benefit stems from a 1997 California Supreme Court decision in Ventura County that addressed whether terminal cash-outs could be counted toward employee pensions.

Although Pazin was paid for vacation and sick hours, he’s not required to use those days or account for them because the sheriff is an elected position.

“Our understanding is that elected officials don’t keep track of or subtract (vacation and sick) hours. They just get it,” Arevalo said, adding that officials are eligible to cash out the maximum 50 sick and 80 vacation hours once a year.

Pazin will also be eligible for retirement benefits from the California Public Employees’ Retirement System after five years of service, according to Rosanna Westmoreland of CalPERS’ Public Affairs Office.

If Pazin retires from the state, he would receive 12.5 percent of his annual salary, which is $120,000 per year. Assuming Pazin received no raises during his tenure, his state retirement checks would be about $15,000 a year, or $1,250 each month.

One expert said it’s not uncommon for law enforcement officials to accept another job after retirement and collect two pensions, but some residents might feel it’s at the expense of taxpayers.

“Most of us don’t see these types of numbers in our pensions,” said Thomas Holyoke, an associate professor in the department of political science at California State University, Fresno. “This is the sort of thing that gets a lot of people around the state upset, especially when the state is complaining about being broke.”

Holyoke said most people understand the amount of risk and responsibility involved with being a sheriff, but seeing the large retirement packages of elected officials can frustrate those that are struggling to survive.

“It’s hard to justify politically when people see these huge payouts,” Holyoke said. “Most people work in the private sector for hourly wages and don’t have retirement benefits anywhere like this.

“Most people have to work beyond the age of 62 just to be able to survive,” he said.

Efforts were made to reach Pazin, but he could not be reached for comment.

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