Don't miss PERS subplot in firing of NLV city manager Qiong Liu
By Victor Joecks
Las Vegas Review-Journal
February 8, 2018
The firing of North Las Vegas City Manager Qiong Liu highlights a very expensive problem with public employee compensation — pension spiking.
On Wednesday, the NLV City Council found that Liu had improperly attempted to give herself a $30,000 raise retroactive to November 2015. In 2015, Liu made $190,000 a year. The council gave her a raise in 2016, but she says she thought that would also include a $30,000 lump-sum payment for having forgone a pay increase the previous year. She says it took her a year to notice the money was missing, because she gets her pay through direct deposit.
Once you stop laughing, realize a $30,000 pay bump could have been worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to Liu via increased pension payouts. Those are benefits taxpayers would have been on the hook for because Nevada’s Public Employee Retirement System has a significant unfunded liability.
Liu started working for the City of Las Vegas around 2000 before going to NLV in 2005. That puts her at right around 18 years of service. But NLV had been purchasing six months of PERS credit, called “air time,” for every year she worked. That pushed her up to around 20 years of service credit.
PERS calculates retirement payouts based on the average of an employee’s three highest years of salary. A pay increase of $30,000 would have hiked her pension by an additional $5,300 a year. That amount would increase, too. Starting in year four, PERS gives retirees annual increases of 2 percent, and that eventually grows to 5 percent.
The law does limit those increases if they outpace inflation.
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