Only 41, ex-Ficano aide to start collecting estimated $96,000 annual pension

DETROIT (WXYZ) - Matt Schenk isn't your average retiree. He's 41, works full-time and collects $194,000 a year at the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

But as soon as next month, he'll start collecting an estimated $96,000 annual pension, courtesy of an early retirement incentive offered to Wayne County appointees.  It had no age restriction. 

Before moving to the water department, Schenk was Robert Ficano's former chief of staff.  He admits he doesn't need the cash, and said he wanted to wait another five years before drawing his lucrative pension.

But last month, he says, the retirement board notified him that he needed to enroll now or lose out on the benefit.

"I was surprised," he said.

Schenk is one of the youngest appointees to take advantage of the early retirement incentive, which county officials say has helped to trim employee ranks and cut costs, but has nonetheless outraged many as the county faces growing deficits.

Last year, an actuarial firm said the county's pension plan was only 50% funded.    

Schenk, who spent 14 years working for county and city government, says the deal is not as sweet as it sounds.  It required employees to have at least 20 of service to qualify, meaning he had to buy an additional six years.  It cost him about $440,000.

Schenk concedes the county could have chosen to include an age restriction on the perk, but declined to say if they should have.

"That's a question that's better left to county officials," he said.

News of Schenk's $96,000 pension disappointed union officials like AFSCME Local 1659 president Joyce Ivory.

"It's a shame," she said.

"That's a salary for at least four of my members."

Contact Investigator Ross Jones at rjones@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466.

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