LAS VEGAS — Nevada governments are using the state pension system to boost the income of public employees, according to a newspaper investigation.

The practice, though legal, costs taxpayers at least $23 million a year in pension and salary, the Las Vegas Review-Journal (http://bit.ly/2sIB2bH) reported Friday.

Over the past few years, hundreds of Clark County School District staff drew pensions and salaries based on an exemption that allows the extra payments for workers who fill jobs that are certified as “critical” and lack applicants. But an investigation by the Las Vegas Review-Journal found after 143 of those authorizations expired, nearly half of the employees stayed in the jobs, despite losing the pension payments.

Two dozen elected officials collect salaries and pensions at the same time, including eight politicians who use the arrangement to make more than $250,000 annually.

The Review-Journal said it obtained the names of elected officials from the Nevada Secretary of State and the Nevada Judicial Branch and matched them with individuals in a database of people who received state pension payments.

According to the newspaper, Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo gets a salary of $161,000 and collected pension payments of nearly $164,000 in 2016 after retiring from the post of assistant sheriff.

“I had a very good career serving the residents of Clark County for 27.5 years, and I am being appropriately compensated after retiring from that job,” Lombardo said.

Former state Assemblyman Randy Kirner said current returns on the fund’s investments cannot maintain expected benefits.

“We will need a half-billion-dollar bailout or a billion-dollar bailout, and someone will have to come up with that number,” Kirner said. “That’s going to be the taxpayers.”

The head of the pension fund, executive officer Tina Leiss, said they are not worried about paying retirees.

“The idea of a taxpayer bailout is not supported by any facts,” she said.