KSL Investigation Finds Sheriff’s Staff Missed Out On Decades Of Pension Contributions
PROVO, Utah – A 20 year old pay practice may have Utah County taxpayers on the hook for millions.
A KSL Investigation found Utah County did not contribute the full pension amount due to hourly law enforcement staff. Our investigation also found the county knew about the issue as far back as 2009. The impact of this practice means retirees have been shorted and taxpayers may owe $6 million or more in back contributions.
“You don’t do it for the money, you do it because you like it,” said John Mulder, a retired Utah County Sheriff’s deputy.
Mulder retired in 2017 after a 20-year career with the sheriff’s department. He retired with his K-9 Niko.
“He’s old like me,” said Mulder.
Mulder started in the jail then moved out on the road. He won awards, taught kids self-defense, and every two weeks, put in his required 86 hours of work.
“Yep, my whole career,” said Mulder.
He got paid every penny of it, except for his pension.
“They’re you know, slighting us on what we’ve earned,” said Mulder.
Utah County deputies and jail staff are scheduled to work more than 80 hours every two weeks without getting paid overtime. It’s legal, but they’re supposed to get pension money on that extra time.
Instead, the county only counted 80 hours of work when calculating the pension. That has shorted Mulder tens of thousands of dollars, and he’s not alone.
Deputies, sergeants, and jail staff did not get credit on their full shifts because Utah County did not file the proper paperwork with Utah Retirement Systems. URS requires employers to file a form known as a declaration of regularly scheduled work period.
On a 2016 form provided to KSL through a government records request, Utah County told URS these employees worked only 80 hours.
“It’s not right. And it needs to be right for everybody. That was the deal, that was the deal they made, and they ought to be following through with it,” said Mulder.
“Basically the county wanted its cake and (to) eat it too,” said former Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy.
In 1998, the Utah Supreme Court ruled wages paid on more than 80 hours every two weeks, which were not overtime pay, qualified towards an employee’s pension. URS also passed a resolution allowing employers to contribute on an employee’s full regular shift in light of the decision at the same time.
Tracy said the county did not change its pay practices after both of these decisions 20 years ago. He said he brought it up to the Utah County Commission at least four times.
“There was no extended conversation, there was no outcome,” said Tracy.
After a month of trying to schedule an interview with the current commission, the KSL Investigators showed up to a weekly commission meeting for answers. The commissioners would not talk to us, saying they could not discuss issues brought up in closed session. They referred us to County Attorney David Leavitt.
“The county paid more in the salaries than they did in retirement benefits,” said Leavitt.
What’s the Fix?
Leavitt is well aware there is a problem, but has only been in office four months.
He told the KSL Investigators that the county knew about the issue as far back as 2009.
He said one of the issues he’s now trying to sort out are the numbers. The county said it doesn’t have a clue how many people have been short-changed, or even how much the county owes them. It could be nothing.
“Or it could be upwards of $6 million,” said Leavitt.
That’s six percent of the county’s current budget.
So what’s the fix? Leavitt said the county could cut other parts of the budget, dip into reserves, or, “Re-look at the whole question of taxation.”
That means raising taxes.
Mulder believes taxpayers will have to do something.
“I pay taxes too. I would like them to do the right thing,” said Mulder.
Leavitt said the county is working on fixing this 22 year old mistake. It filed paperwork in January to make the correct pension contributions going forward. But retirees like Mulder, who KSL calculates may be out $47,000 over the course of his retirement, are anxiously awaiting a fix.
“You don’t see me vacationing in Buenos Aires or something like that, right?” said Mulder.