Murray says it will check whether overpayments made to highway chief for health insurance stipend

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 15 February 2017 at 2:10 pm

MURRAY – A town official who receives nearly $5,000 a year as a stipend for not using health insurance paid by the town may have been receiving about $3,000 a year too much the past three years.

Joe Sidonio, a local resident, reviewed the town policy for payments in lieu of health insurance. Sidonio believes the town has made a mistake in paying Ed Morgan, the highway superintendent, $4,985 as annual stipend for getting health insurance elsewhere.

The town has been paying $4,985 for full-time employees who could receive a two-person health insurance policy. The town in 2006 approved a policy where the town agreed to pay half of what the health insurance premium would cost for employees receiving health insurance elsewhere. In 2012, the Town Board revised the policy to cap it at 2011 levels – $4,985 for a two-person policy, $6,007 for a family policy, and $1,742 for a single policy.

However, for new employees hired after the effective date of the local law (first adopted on Sept. 12, 2006 and then amended in 2012), the maximum health insurance stipends would be $3,000 for a family plan, $2,000 for a two-person plan, and $1,000 for a single person policy.

The way Sidonio sees it, Morgan should be considered a “new” employee because he had a break in service when he retired for a day on Dec. 31, 2013. Morgan, like many long-time elected officials in the state, can “retire” for a day and then begin collecting their state pension, as well as their full salary. (Among elected highway superintendents in Orleans County, Larry Swanger of Clarendon and Roger Wolfe of Yates both “retired” briefly so they could receive their pensions, as well as full salary.)

Sidonio first asked the Town Board in February 2016 if Morgan had retired as superintendent, and if Morgan was receiving his pension and also the health insurance stipend.

Sidonio submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the town, and Town Clerk Cindy Oliver on Feb. 22, 2016 sent a letter to Sidonio, saying the town did not have any records of Morgan’s retirement.

Sidonio sent a FOIA to the state comptroller, which sent a letter on March 31, 2016, saying that Morgan had retired on Dec. 31, 2013 and was receiving a $3,114.18 a month for his pension.

Town Supervisor John Morriss, during the April12, 2016, Town Board meeting responded that Morgan had not actually retired, but was receiving his retirement, according to minutes from the meeting.

However, Sidonio said Morgan did retire, even if for a day, based on the paperwork with the comptroller.

The Murray local law states that current employees receiving the the stipend shall be considered new employees at the lower stipend level if they have a break in employment by not getting reappointed, not being re-elected “or otherwise.” If they then return to employment with the town, “such employees shall be regarded as a new employee and subject to the limitations on payments in lieu of health insurance applicable to new employees,” according to the town law, which Sidonio read from on Tuesday.

He believes the town has overpaid Morgan nearly $9,000 from 2014 to 2016, with a new year now begun of excessive payments.

“I would respectfully ask the Town Board to look at that and let us know what is happening with that,” Sidonio told the Town Board. “If retirement is not considered a break in service, I don’t know what is.”

Town Supervisor John Morriss and Town Attorney Jeff Martin said the town would look into the matter.

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