Lee Zurik Investigation: S&WB chief set for huge retirement benefits

Updated: Apr. 17, 2013 at 9:00 PM CDT
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The head of the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board says she'll retire at the end of the year.

S&WB Executive Director Marcia St. Martin has been a public employee for 42 years, 22 of those at the Sewerage and Water Board. When she steps down at the end of this year, she'll receive a hefty paycheck.

"People look at these things and say, 'What is going on here? Has this world gone mad?'" remarked Rep. Kevin Pearson (R-Slidell) when we spoke with him about St. Martin's lucrative retirement package last year.

Pearson heads the state House Retirement Committee, and he had a strong reaction to the retirement package awaiting St. Martin.

"I think people should be insulted by it," Pearson told us, after we laid out St. Martin's retirement benefit -- she'll start collecting it soon.

Wednesday, St. Martin announced her retirement, set for the end of this year. When she leaves her public job, St. Martin will be paid $175,000 every year for the rest of her life.

There's more.

In that 2012 story, we showed that the Sewerage and Water Board said in February of 2010 that St. Martin entered what's called a DROP program, or the Deferred Retirement Option Plan. When she entered DROP, the Sewerage and Water Board calculated St. Martin's retirement benefit so any future raise cannot be used to get her more retirement money.

When St. Martin entered DROP, she continued to collect her yearly salary. But in a separate account, St. Martin also had started to collect her retirement money, the $175,000 a year, through DROP. Each month, the S&WB deposits that money, a nearly $15,000 check, in her DROP account. St. Martin could stay in DROP for five years -- but with Wednesday's news, she appears to be cashing out about a year early.

Here's how DROP works. When an employee retires, they get a lump sum check of whatever they've accumulated in their DROP account. According to our calculations, when St. Martin retires, she'll be able to cash out that DROP account, receiving a check of $700,000.

Janet Howard, president of the non-profit group Bureau of Governmental Research, told us, "It is a very significant, very generous arrangement compared to what most people in the private sector, who are actually saying a lot of the bills, are able to get themselves."

When you add her yearly retirement benefit and her DROP money, this means in year one of retirement, the public retirement system of the Sewerage and Water Board will pay St. Martin close to $900,000.