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Retired police, firefighters return to work, keep pensions, April 27, 2003

CHERRY HILL, N.J. - Retired police and firefighters, unlike many public servants in New Jersey, can return to work at higher salaries while continuing to draw pensions.

The Courier-Post of Cherry Hill gave several examples of formerly retired firefighters and law enforcement officers who are earning more than ever after landing higher-paying jobs than the ones they left.

According to the Courier-Post, Willie Fontanez, 47, earned an annual salary of $70,723 when he retired April 1 from his job as a sergeant in the Camden County Sheriff's Office.

This week, Fontanez will return to work for Sheriff Michael McLaughlin, the Courier-Post reported, citing payroll records. He will get a $4,386 raise to supervise delivery of warrants, even as he collects a $35,000 pension.

The switch in jobs will allow Fontanez to take part in the sheriff's re-election campaign if he wants. As a sergeant, Fontanez could not engage in politics. But the sheriff said the decision is up to Fontanez.

"Now that he's in an appointed position, I would expect that he would help me," McLaughlin said. "He serves at the pleasure of the sheriff; in other words, if I'm not there, it's possible that he won't be there either. So it would probably benefit him to help me. ...

"But am I going to put any demands on him? Absolutely not," McLaughlin, a Democrat, concluded.

Fontanez did not respond to interview requests left by the Courier-Post at his office. His home phone number is unlisted.

The sheriff's opponent in the election, Republican Dennis Chance, said he had no problem with Fontanez drawing a pension and earning another government salary at the same time either.

After all, both Chance and McLaughlin do the same thing.

Chance receives an annual pension of $39,000 as the retired police chief of Berlin Borough. After his retirement six years ago, Chance took a job as a field representative for the Camden County Department of Health, earning $32,753.

McLaughlin earns a pension of $56,000 from his 28-year career with the state police. As county sheriff, he receives a $118,000 salary.

While other county employees cannot earn more than $15,000 from another government job after they retire, an exception is made for police officers and firefighters due to the high risk and stress of their jobs.

Camden County Freeholder Lou Cappelli said he did not know how taxpayers would feel about the practice.

"I intend to discuss this in further detail with the freeholder board," Cappelli said.

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