REVERE (CBS) – Earning pension eligibility for time you didn’t work may sound too good to be true. But the I-Team found that is exactly what is happening at some fire departments in Massachusetts thanks to a Civil Service loophole.

It’s called the “Reserve List” and it’s under fire by both veterans’ advocates and taxpayer watchdogs as a handout to a privileged few.

“I think it’s an end around,” says Dan Magoon of Mass Fallen Heroes. The firefighter and veteran goes on to say, “I think it defeats the purpose of why we have civil service.”

Civil Service is the system that’s supposed to ensure fairness in hiring firefighters and police officers.

Candidates pay to take the test and their name winds up on a civil service list according to test score and special priorities. Disabled Veterans have absolute preference, followed by veterans. After that, civilian residents and others are ranked according to test scores.

Every two years, the list is scrapped, and a new test is given.

But a handful of Massachusetts communities have what’s called a reserve list, kept by the mayors. While 40 cities are allowed to use them, only a handful still do. They include Lowell, Everett, Revere, Somerville and Peabody.

It allows them to take people off of civil service and hold their place in line for years without having to take a new test. That means they’ll get on the job before someone with a preference or a higher score who takes the test in the future. The whole time they’re waiting, they are earning time toward retirement.

“Right here you have a piece of civil service that allows cities and towns to hire whoever they want to,” said Magoon.

Magoon argues the lists can allow cities and towns to save spots for the politically connected at the expense of veterans. Taxpayer advocates say it’s a multi-million dollar pension giveaway.

“It’s a double edged whammy with regard to abuse of the system,” said Greg Sullivan of the Pioneer Institute.

The Pioneer Institute did the math on what this perk costs you.

Take a firefighter who retires with a salary of $80,000. He would earn around $60,000 per year in pension. If he’d spent five years on the reserve list he could get credit for that time he didn’t work, retiring five years early at a cost of $300,000 dollars.

“This is an obvious blinking flashing warning light. This should be fixed,” Sullivan says.

Revere has as many as 30 people on their reserve list. It is the longest in the state. It includes the names of lots of people with family connections to city government who are all getting this retirement bonus.

“Firefighters and police officers that are eligible for this do a job that’s extremely dangerous,” said Revere Fire Chief Gene Doherty when asked about the list. “That’s at least some reward for them that they’re given that in the end.” He says he doesn’t have an issue with the fact they are getting pension credit for time they never wore a uniform.

Doherty says it isn’t his decision to have a reserve list. The city has always had one. The city council even voted to add more names a few years ago.

“Is it fair to the people taking the test now?” the I-Team asked. “It’s fair to the people who are on the reserve list. Sometimes that’s how the dice get rolled, I’m sorry to say,” Doherty replied.

Lauren Leamanczyk can be reached at llleamanczyk@cbs.com. You can also find her on Twitter @LaurenWBZ.

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