ROCK HILL, SC (WBTV) - The highest paid employees in the City of Rock Hill, SC, also collect a full retirement, an On Your Side investigation has found.
A change to the state's retirement benefits in 2012 prompted long-time employees - those with at least thirty years of employment - to have to choose between taking a retirement and continuing to work or wait to retire and collect a much smaller benefit.
"[It] was like an E-vite saying, 'Come and retire, and we're going to incentivize your retirement. We're encouraging you to return to work after you've retired,'" explained Phyllis Fauntleroy, the city's Human Resources Director.
Fauntleroy, whose annual salary is $122,019.04, is among six city employees who earn a city-figure salary from the city and collect a state retirement benefit, too.
"I thought the good thing to do, the wise thing to do, and the good steward thing to do would be to take the funds and have them escrowed where I couldn't get my hands on them, and then to continue to work," she said.
The city's top employee, City Manager David Vehaun, also took the early retirement in 2012 but continues to collect his $180,710.40 salary.
Two deputy city managers, James Bagley and Gerald Schaprio, collect retirement benefits in addition to their salary of $165,484.80.
There are a total of 49 Rock Hill employees who continue to work at the city despite also collecting a taxpayer-funded retirement check from the state.
Vehaun, the city manager, declined a request for an on-camera interview and, through a spokeswoman, directed questions for this story to Fauntleroy.
Fauntleroy said it is a win-win for citizens, since the program incentivized experienced employees to continue working for the city.
"The way you deliver that quality is through a high-quality staff," she said. "And so you have people who are experienced performing that work for the citizens."
Mayor Doug Echols echoed that sentiment in a written statement.
"I'm proud to say that City employees are 'always on' and these veterans help to lay a strong foundation for our city organization," Echols wrote.
Under the terms of the early retirement program, employees who opted to continue working are still paying into the retirement system but that new money is not being added to their benefits.
"[Taxpayers] are getting a great return on investment," Fauntleroy said. "The person who's retired is getting a great return on their investment, it's a win-win."