It turns out time actually is money for many former Illinois State Police troopers.
Thousands of hours of unused time off amounted to retirement payouts totaling more than $7.7 million for 134 former state police officers from 2006 to 2012, according to an analysis of department records. That works out to an average of more than $58,000 per retiree.
"Anecdotally, I would say that's not the norm in private industry," said Angela Adams, director of human resource services at the Downers Grove-based Management Association, a not-for-profit employers advocacy organization. "Usually there's a much tighter limit on how much you can carry over from year to year."
Former state police deputy director and current DuPage Metropolitan Enforcement Group Director Mark Piccoli was the recipient of the biggest payout during that time, receiving $96,036 for accrued time off when he retired in mid-2012, records showed.
"I had a lot of responsibilities in my last several years and time away was always problematic. The last year I was in charge of the NATO detail and that consumed a lot of my time," said Piccoli, referring to the May 2012 NATO leaders summit in Chicago.
Former troopers, like Piccoli, are allowed to bank months of time off throughout their careers that are cashed out at their higher final salaries rather than a career salary average or another salary formula.
Piccoli's accrued time payout was enhanced by his $150,000-plus annual salary.
Unused sick time cost Illinois taxpayers the most from 2006 to 2012, totaling almost $3.6 million of the full tab. Troopers can receive payouts for up to 84 unused sick days.
Those costs should begin to dwindle in coming years because state police employees hired after 1997 are unable to cash out unused sick days. However, state police employees can still bank up to 168 sick days and use them as credit toward early retirement, State Employees' Retirement System Director Tim Blair said. A full complement of unused sick days amounts to about 7½ months of service credit.
Another $2.7 million was paid out for unused vacation time.
Troopers are able to bank up to 50 days of vacation time, or 10 weeks. That's something critics say is rare in the private sector.
"Use it or lose it is the reality," said Ted Dabrowski, vice president of policy at the conservative think tank Illinois Policy Institute. "That's just amazing to have that much time banked."
Monique Bond, a spokeswoman for the state police, said the agency's time-banking policies comply with legislative actions, state employment policies and negotiated union agreements.
Former troopers also received hundreds of thousands of dollars more for accumulated personal, compensatory and holiday time they never used during their careers.
While not uncommon in government jobs, such policies can make budgeting difficult.
"There's a possibility you'll run into staffing problems and these large lump-sum payouts can strain your financial resources," said Ryan Petty, assistant professor of human resources management at Roosevelt University.
Unlike those in most municipal police departments who have to work 30 years for maximum retirement benefits and receive a top starting pension based on 75 percent of a salary average, state police troopers are fully vested after less than 27 years and receive a maximum starting pension based on 80 percent of their salaries in the final month of their employment, Blair said. Troopers can begin collecting pensions at age 50.
But troopers can't use the payouts for unused time off to inflate their pensions, like some other public pension programs allow, Blair added.
"Benefit packages are so dependent with what the norms are," Adams said. "The state police are competing with other departments and other government entities and they're trying to make sure their benefits are competitive."
Piccoli said retirement benefits were not the reason he got into law enforcement. But now that he is retired from the state police, he has to be careful about accepting jobs that might jeopardize his $120,000-plus yearly pension.
He makes $80,000 a year now as director at DUMEG, paid from funds seized by the enforcement group rather than tax dollars.
He will not receive another pension for his work with the agency.
The 56-year-old Piccoli said he always planned on staying in the workforce when his state police career ended. He said other opportunities could have been more lucrative than DUMEG, but he passed in favor of doing something he liked. He's familiar with public employees who have begun collecting retirement benefits from one government job only to find another public sector job to build another pension there.
"I could have made more money doing other things," he said.
"I was familiar with this type of organization and the importance of doing it the right way. All things considered, this worked out well for me and the unit as well."