Tom Swisstack draws salary and pension checks for his roles as a Bernalillo County public safety administrator and Rio Rancho’s mayor, along with decades on the county payroll and a five-year stint as a state legislator.
The total: around $217,000 in annual salary and pension benefits, according to city, county and state officials. Both positions also provide him with a take-home vehicle for work-related use.
Swisstack, 65, is one of close to 1,100 public sector employees who were grandfathered into a pension arrangement that allowed them to receive both pay and pension when they retired and returned to work in the same or similar employment. The practice, known as “double dipping,” was prohibited under a law passed in 2010.
Swisstack’s paychecks are taxpayer funded, while his pension is a blend of employer and employee contributions.
His annual salary as Bernalillo County’s deputy director for public safety – responsible for the oversight of the Youth Services Center, New Mexico’s largest juvenile detention facility, the Animal Care and Fire & Rescue Departments and the Metropolitan Detention Center – is $108,678.
As mayor of Rio Rancho, the state’s third largest city with a population of around 90,000, his annual salary is $26,749.
Swisstack was elected in March 2008 to serve out a term for a previous mayor who resigned, and was re-elected in 2010. The city’s weak-mayor style of government gives daily operational responsibility to a city manager, who earns $150,000 a year.
Tom Swisstack’s Paychecks
Rio Rancho Mayor:
Deputy County Manager for Public Safety:
Patty Thomas, who has been a Rio Rancho councilor since 2001 and before that served with Swisstack on the Sandoval County commission, said he has always been a hard worker.
“All in all, Tom has done a really good job and he’s done his best to represent the people of Rio Rancho,” Thomas said.
Swisstack’s pension amounts to $6,852.47 per month, or $82,229.64 annually before any tax or deductions, through the Public Employees Retirement Association, according to Chris Bulman, assistant general counsel for PERA. Of that, $676 per month is for his years as a legislator. He represented House District 60 from 2003 through 2008.
In an interview, Swisstack expressed surprise at the pension figure, saying he believed it was $5,300. On double-checking, Bulman repeated the higher number.
“I think I earned … that retirement, I worked for that,” Swisstack said, pointing out that the law change means he must continue to contribute to PERA in the county job he took in 2010 but does not accrue further benefits.
State, county and city employees become eligible for PERA benefits through contributing a percentage of their salary into the system. Their employers also contribute. The percentages vary according to which plan they belong to. Legislators can also be eligible by contributing a lump sum annually.
PERA records shows Swisstack contributed as a state employee from 1970 through 1978, with a gap in 1975, and made contributions through Bernalillo County and Sandoval County from 1987 to 1994. He was a Sandoval County commissioner from 1986 to 1994.
In 1994, Swisstack was assistant director of the then Bernalillo County Juvenile Detention Center, a position he resigned to become mayor of Rio Rancho. In 1998, he stepped down and returned to county employment, becoming director of the juvenile detention facility. PERA records show he began paying into the system in September 1987 and continued through September 2008. He also contributed $500 a year into the PERA system as a legislator from 2001 through 2008.
Swisstack stepped down as a legislator in 2008 and temporarily retired from his county job but returned to work. He began receiving PERA pension benefits in October 2008, said Bulman.
In August 2010, Swisstack was named interim deputy manager for public safety after John Dantis resigned amid allegations of wrongdoing in office.
Although Swisstack receives pension benefits not available to public employees who retired and returned to work after the law change in 2010, the money is not totally taxpayer funded.
The law change required double dippers like Swisstack to pay into the PERA fund. County employees contribute around 13 percent of their salary into the fund, the county’s share is around 9 percent, said PERA spokesman Vince Jaramillo.
— This article appeared on page A4 of the Albuquerque Journal