Pension ‘spiking’ costing county

Thomas Williams, executive director of the state Employees’ Retirement System (ERS), started the County Council’s March 13 meeting by giving an extensive presentation on ERS and the financial implications to the County of Kauai. Williams presents once a year on the subject of ERS.

Williams outlined the impact of “spiking,” which is an employee’s increasing his or her retirement pay by working lots of overtime in the few years leading to his or her retirement.

In 2018, the County of Kauai spent $2.4 million on pension spiking. This number is up from 2017, when spiking cost the county $854,398.

“It’s the egregious spiking that produces the numbers you are looking at,” Williams told the council.

“If the majority of the spike is in police and fire, it’s because we’re working them extensively,” Councilwoman Felicia Cowden said. “I would like to see those numbers split. Somewhere we need to be able to see it. We need to be conscious that we are not being unfair to any portion of what we are doing.”

Williams explained that the state ERS does have the flexibility to change investment opportunities, international or national, as they see fit.

“The Legislature controls our ability to hire and our budget,” Williams said. “In an ideal circumstance, the board would be in charge of the hiring and our budgets. I don’t want to blame the Legislature. I want to convince the Legislature it’s a good investment.”

Williams stated that in fiscal year 2018 Kauai County contributions to ERS stood at $18.1 million. He estimated that, by July 2020, some 41 percent of county contributions will be for fire and police employees.

Three members of the public testified after Williams’ presentation, all echoing the sentiment that the county must operate with a “best-practice method” for each department, especially as it relates to emergency-management services.


Ryan Collins, county reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or

  1. harry oyama March 17, 2019 8:56 am Reply

    This type of overtime spiking to increase one’s for life pension payout is a ripoff to taxpayers.

    I worked various military units and it was normal to stay on duty until the mission is completed, often working 12-14 hours and sometimes straight 24-30 hours with little sleep. Yet we only got the standard basic pay without any overtime.

    Also in the private sector, when one does work overtime, that OT time is never computed for one’s pension benefit only the basic pay.

    These cops and firefighters already get overtime pay and it should not be computed in calculating one’s for life pension payouts. It is not justified for an employee to get as much or more pension payouts than those of much higher management positions who do not get overtime, yet have much more responsibilities and stress than these employees.

    Voters should pass a petition to end this type of abuse because we all pay for this. If these employees want to get a bigger pension payout, they should go work for another company which I did and the reason why I get more than one pension payout. I worked for this additional benefit and sacrificed allot instead of bidding my time on public expense, milking the system for more pay while others get much less for doing more.

    1. Justmyopinion March 17, 2019 12:24 pm Reply

      Harry, you’re absolutely correct. But I thought spiking was already stopped. And made illegal!! Or was that only for non-safety employees?? Will someone please start a petition so we can get Ot on the ballot for the public to vote on. Obviously our legislature won’t do that because their political campaigns have been fed by the police and fire unions.

  2. Scott Buck March 17, 2019 9:25 am Reply

    EZ solution,
    Cap the allowed O T that figures into retirement calculations.
    Reasonable is at 10%.
    Of course, such a solution is above the mentality of today’s politicians.

  3. HowNaive March 17, 2019 9:45 am Reply

    How naive can Cowden be?

    It’s been going on for decades. Anyone who understands the High 3 rule and dies this, is gaming the system for a higher pension.

    There’s been many articles and blogs discussing this topic. A popular blog on Kauai discussed how this scheme was put together with disability claims.

    There needs to be audit on these frivolous overtime scheme.

    Don’t be naive and say these people are being overworked. All you have to do is an audit to justify or refute the claims against others who aren’t scheming the high theee rule to spike their pensions.

    It’s not a good sign when a county council member is clueless to this practice that has been done for decades.

    This is a blue/white collar crime and HR is involved with the scheme. In fact, KPD identified this and tried to put an end to it but it only lasted for so long.

    The Fed gov actually makes you pay into your retirement like the military now does. State and county employees should be paying for their own retirements so state and county would not have to come up with phonybplans to raise taxes to pay for pensions and use phony reasons why taxes are raised just like the new proposals that’s happening every year and maybe twice a year now.

    How naive can you be?

  4. Huyu March 17, 2019 10:08 am Reply

    Ignorance is bliss but there is no excuse this not to be looked into.

    The tax payers deserve a transparent investigation on these matters. It’s a concern that cannot be overlooked.

    Case in point: Ross Kagawa has a state and county job but when he retired he can only receive one so that’s a fair deal.

    Now is it fair that public employees/ officials are taking advantage of a loop hole? Is it fair for their colleagues to partake or not to partake in such a flagrant violation of ethical conduct?

    This to me is an adequate depiction of current events that’s circumventing in certain public employment careers. Is it wide spread or isolated to the police and fire depts?

    The people have the right to know.

    Ignorance can not be tolerated for this is a budgetary concern and possible criminal acts are being committed so there needs to be a thorough audit on this ASAP.

    I like how TGO always put articles of great public concern on the weekend papers, knowing that majority of people will not read Friday, Saturday, or Sunday papers or articles.

    How to control the masses through newspaper and media blackout (censorship).

  5. kauaidoug March 17, 2019 12:12 pm Reply

    2 words:

    RIP OFF!!

  6. Dourhomework March 17, 2019 9:01 pm Reply

    Do your homework before you talk. All county employees pay high dollar amount for their medical and retirement. Yes I agree retirement spikes can get out of control but remember a lot of times there is worker shortage due to various reasons also for police and fire remember they risk there lives and deal with things that you can’t imagine for your safety. I salute them for risking there lives for others.

  7. Joe Public March 20, 2019 2:46 pm Reply

    Well, because of the shortages in the PD and FD, overtime is inevitable as they are stuck to work the double shifts and cancelled days off to respond to public emergencies. Do you think that they want to stay on duty?

    As far as “High 3” that does not apply anymore with the new generation, they stopped that and their retirement is based on their base pay, not including OT, and they also have to put in more years .

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