Conservative Party vice chairman cries foul over ‘double dipping’ by elected officials

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 17 March 2017 at 12:02 pm

YATES – Paul Lauricella said “politicians” continue to shock his senses, taking advantage of ways to enrich themselves at the public’s expense.

Lauricella, the vice chairman of the Orleans County Conservative Party, said it should not be legal for some elected officials to “retire” from their positions, collect their pensions, and then stay on in their elected positions receiving their full pay.

Lauricella addressed the Yates Town Board on Thursday. He is upset that Roger Wolfe, the town highway superintendent, is considered retired and able to collect his public pension, while continuing to work as town highway and water superintendent. Wolfe is paid $64,180 as highway superintendent and $13,658 as water superintendent in 2017.

He entered the NYS Employees Retirement System on Dec. 31, 2015, eligible for a pension at $50,619 annually. (He can’t receive that full pension each year because he is younger than 65. But he can receive a prorated amount until he surpasses $30,000 in pay in a year. A letter from the state comptroller’s office on March 15 said Wolfe was able to receive his monthly pension of $4,209.02 until May 2016, when he hit the $30,000 level in income.)

Once over 65, retired municipal employees have no income restrictions that affect their pensions, according to the state Retirement and Social Security Law.

Lauricella has been sending Freedom of Information Act requests to the town and comptroller’s office. He presented the responses to the Town Board on Thursday. Town Supervisor Jim Simon asked Lauriella to present his questions in writing, and the board would work to answer them.

Lauricella shared some of his concerns during the meeting on Thursday. He said the town minutes don’t show any record of Wolfe retiring. Town Councilman Jim Whipple said he recalls the Town Board accepting the resignation at a December 2015 meeting. Whipple said the minutes could be modified to show that.

Wolfe had been re-elected that November and started a new term on Jan. 1, 2016. That is how some of the elected officials who then collect their pensions handle the timing. When they have already been re-elected to start new terms on Jan. 1, they retire typically the day before the new term starts.

Ed Morgan, the Murray highway superintendent, and Larry Swanger, the Clarendon highway superintendent, also are retired and continuing to work full-time in the jobs. Many long-term state legislators, such as David Gantt in Rochester, also are retired, collecting a pension and their regular pay for their elected positions.

Simon, the Yates town supervisor, said Wolfe has done nothing illegal. As an elected official, the rules are different for “double dipping,” collecting a pension and full-time pay.

Normally a public employee has to get a waiver to continue working on the government payroll and collect a pension. The municipality needs to show the person is difficult to replace, without a qualified successor ready to take over.

Lauricella said other capable people could serve as highway and water superintendent for Yates.

Normally municipal retirees also have to stay out of the same position they were working in for at least a year, before they are brought back to that job. But that stipulation doesn’t apply to elected officials.

Lauricella said it was wrong to have different rules for elected officials and other public employees.

“I’m sure there is some loophole because when you’re a politician you can get away with anything,” Lauricella said at the meeting.

Simon said he would research Lauricella’s questions to make sure the answers were correct.

Simon praised Wolfe and the highway workers for their recent effort cleaning up after the powerful wind storm last week and then for their work clearing town roads from the big snowstorm this week.

Simon also praised the Lyndonville Fire Department and Village of Lyndonville for making their facilities available as warming shelters for people without electricity. Simon said some residents went four days before their power was restored.

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