SOME of the North Shore’s top retired firefighters are taking taxpayers for a ride by collecting a pension and a paycheque simultaneously, according to a taxpayer watchdog group.
Fire Chiefs Dave Burgess and Barry Penman at the City of North Vancouver and Steven Feenstra, a deputy fire chief at the District of North Vancouver, have retired recently and then been hired back on contracts in order to train their replacements.
The practice, which is allowed municipal pension rules, smacks of poor planning to Jordan Bateman, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
“If you know you’re going to have to replace the chief on March 1, 2013, don’t leave it until March 2, 2013 to suddenly start training,” said Bateman. “You want to make sure you’re doing that ahead of time. That just saves taxpayers money, because you’re not paying twice for the same service.”
“(If you) leave the fire service, you get a pension, and then you get a contract to come back and train your successor, that’s essentially a double dip.”
District of North Vancouver spokeswoman Jeanine Bratina confirmed by email that Steven Feenstra retired in 2011 but has continued on at the city since then.
Feenstra served the city for 30 years and earned $235,000 in 2011. His current contract will expire at the end of 2012.
The City of North Vancouver has hired Penman and Burgess back “for a limited term,” said spokeswoman Connie Rabold, also in an email.
Bratina and Rabold said the purpose of the practice is to pass on special expertise to other employees.
The District of North Vancouver does not negotiate such contracts very often, wrote Bratina, but it’s sometimes necessary, given the number of staff reaching retirement age: 20 per cent of the district’s 70 management staff will be eligible to retire in the next five years, according to the municipality.
The North Shore News requested interviews with the City Manager for the City of North Vancouver and the Chief Administrative Officer for the district, but were told they not available.
Working after retirement is something many municipal managers choose to do, said Tom MacDonald, director of the Local Government Management Association, a professional development organization for bureaucrats.
“Sometimes people leave, and they’re at the end of their careers, and they’re tired, and they don’t want to come back,” said MacDonald. “There are others where from a financial perspective it makes sense . . . to do that . . . Part of it is just altruism, where people are just wanting to help out their local government.”
In Feenstra’s case, the retired fire chief’s diverse skill set makes him hard to replace, said Bratina.
“He is primarily a subject-matter expert in fire prevention and investigation matters, and also has extensive experience in operations and administration,” wrote Bratina in an email. “The decision on how to, or whether to, distribute his duties to one or more staff members will be subject to available suitable replacements and also on the operational needs of the organization at the time of Mr. Feenstra’s eventual departure.”
While firefighters are required to retire by age 60, district policies allow those who do not work in fire suppression or rescue work to stay on past that age.
The District of West Vancouver did not return calls by press time.