Passaic City Council Embarrased by Publicity Caused by Giving Themselves Yet More Benefits

5 08 2007

Meredith Mandell – Herald News

Passaic, NJ – The City Council has approved a resolution that makes its eight elected officials eligible for city-paid health coverage after they retire and have put in 15 years of service — not the 25 years of service that is required of the city’s more than 600 employees.

But by Friday, two council members were having second thoughts and said they would rescind the resolution.

“I sincerely apologize to the residents of Passaic for this egregious mistake,” Council President Gary Schaer wrote in an e-mail statement Friday morning. “My support of this resolution was an error in judgment for which I have no excuse. I have spoken to the city attorney and asked them to prepare a resolution for the next meeting of the City Council scheduled for Tuesday, August 7th. The purpose of the resolution will be to rescind this measure.”

Schaer did not return repeated phone calls Thursday and Friday for comment on this story. Only one of the seven council members, Gerardo Fernandez, responded to the calls. He said he had misread the resolution and thought the health benefits plan applied to all city employees.

“I was under the impression it was for everybody,” Fernandez said by telephone Friday. “Maybe I didn’t read it right.” He said that the council should propose a resolution to lower the threshold for all city employees.

Mayor Samuel Rivera, 60, with 18 years and seven months of public service, according to the state pension office, said he didn’t think there was anything wrong with lowering the years of service for elected officials.

“I think I work really hard as mayor, and I think I deserve it,” Rivera said in a telephone interview Friday. “Believe me, it’s stressful, I’ve gotten six more strokes because of my job as mayor.” Rivera has been in and out of the hospital for high blood pressure and suffered two minor strokes in 2003. His salary is $117,957, according to a 2007 city salary list, in addition to a $2,200 expense account.

On May 29, the City Council approved the resolution to adopt the provisions of the New Jersey State Health Benefits Program after the city administration proposed the ordinance. An addendum attached to the ordinance stipulated it would apply to elected officials only. City Council members earn a base salary of $22,800 in addition to a $2,000 expense account.

To be eligible for post-retirement health benefits, the retiring city employee must be age 62 or older — in addition to having served 15 years. The city would pay 100 percent of health-insurance premiums until the retired employee reaches age 65 and Medicare kicks in.

Council President Schaer, 55, and Councilmen Chaim Munk, 41, have 12 years each in office. Daniel Schwartz, 42, has 10 years in office; Councilman Marcellus Jackson, 38, has six years in office; Fernandez, 50, has 10 years in office, while Jose Garcia has six years in office. Newly elected Councilwoman Maritza Colon Montanez, 46, is in her first year of elected service.

All seven council members voted for the resolution — included among a block of resolutions — without discussion.

Under city employee contracts, the city agrees to pay 100 percent of health insurance premiums for retired employees and their spouses who have 25 years of service under the Public Employee Retirement System, the state-funded pension. In 1974, the City Council approved a resolution that city employees must work for the city 25 years before becoming eligible for the benefits.

Employees who retire and do not meet the years of service must pay $800 to $1,400 a month in health-insurance premiums, said Tom Vincz, a spokesman for the state Department of the Treasury, which runs the Division of Pensions and Benefits.

Vincz did not know how many of New Jersey’s 566 municipalities extend post-retirement benefits to their elected officials.

Michael Delbalso, human resources director for Wayne Township, said elected officials are offered benefits but the township does not pay for them.

“Our elected officials are eligible for health benefits while they are officials — if they are willing to pay for them,” he said. “We don’t give them benefits at the township’s expense at all, no matter if they are here for five minutes or 15 years.”

John B. Cudworth, personnel director for the city of Clifton, said Clifton does not give the benefits. “They can purchase after service, but they don’t get free health benefits,” he said.

West Milford does not offer benefits to elected officials after 15 years, Antoinette Battaglia, a secretary in the administrative office, said, “We don’t have anyone that has been here for that long. But even if we did, the officials are not offered health benefits in our municipality.”

The State Health Benefits Program was established in 1961 under NJSA 52:14-17.25 to provide health benefits to state employees and their dependents. The program was extended to employees and their dependents of participating local employers in 1964.

State law Chapter 48 Public Law 1999 sets certain parameters as to how local entities set up the plan but leaves it up to each municipality to decide, based on their finances, what the thresholds are to receive post-retirement benefits and what groups of employees are eligible.

Passaic has 694 employees, according to a February 2007 personnel list. The city purchases a plan for its retired employees from the New Jersey State Health Benefits Program, which according to the 2007 municipal budget cost $4.8 million, said Greg Hill, city business administrator.

In January the City Council approved a $72.8 million budget with a 9 percent tax increase. Council members said the rising cost of employee salaries and benefits were responsible for the tax increase. In November, the city got $1.5 million in extraordinary aid money from the state Department of Community Affairs, intended for “municipalities who, because of extreme circumstances, would not be able to provide essential services to the community without a substantial increase in their property tax rate,” according to Community Affairs.

The council is required to provide the Division of Pensions and Benefits a copy of a resolution before it can take effect. Vincz, the Treasury spokesman said Passaic’s resolution had not been received as of Friday. The effective date of the resolution is June 1.

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10 responses

5 08 2007
Chanie

Is this why they raised our property taxes last year? All the city council members seem to do is to vote things for themselves and vote against the interests of the Jewish community, the expansion of School No. Three on Van Houten being a notable example.

5 08 2007
I pay your salary

Chanie Says:

August 5th, 2007 at 11:32 am
Is this why they raised our property taxes last year? All the city council members seem to do is to vote things for themselves and vote against the interests of the Jewish community, the expansion of School No. Three on Van Houten being a notable example.

Yes, this is why they raised our property taxes.

5 08 2007
Bumbling Idiots?!

Either way the city council members sound like a bunch of bumbling idiots!

If as Fernandez put it, they passed the resolution without understanding it, what does that say about them, and how they govern?

And if they really did realise what they were passing, how greedy can these guys get at our expense? What’s next, legislating themselves free vacations to the Bahamas at the taxpayer’s expense?

5 08 2007
Mark

our city council members do a very good job for our community. cut them some slack. why does it bother you if they a few benefits they deserve for their hard work?

5 08 2007
foot in mouth

I think it’s clear what happened here. They thought no one would notice them giving themselves some more perks at taxpayers expense, and now that it has become publicized they are trying to take their foot out of their mouthes.

5 08 2007
yoni

“Only one of the seven council members, Gerardo Fernandez, responded to the calls. He said he had misread the resolution and thought the health benefits plan applied to all city employees.”

How is that better? So he thought that he was gonna give all city employees retirement benifits after 15 years of service instead of 25? At our expense? What city has ever done that? The city council should be ashamed.

5 08 2007
foot in mouth

yoni Says:

August 5th, 2007 at 4:07 pm
“Only one of the seven council members, Gerardo Fernandez, responded to the calls. He said he had misread the resolution and thought the health benefits plan applied to all city employees.”

How is that better? So he thought that he was gonna give all city employees retirement benifits after 15 years of service instead of 25? At our expense? What city has ever done that? The city council should be ashamed.

I think he was just trying to wiggle out of it and in doing so just shoved his foot even further up his mouth!

6 08 2007
Fedupinpassaic

This is to Mark, When do our council members work hard, other than campaigning for reelection. They should put a box for tips for the few people like yourselves that think theyre doing ok (Are you in the council?) We are getting fleeced and we keep voting for the same crooks. There are many extras that the councilmen getlike free gas from Raineir’s in exchange for the towing contract. We are all a bunch of idiots.

6 08 2007
FedUpInPassaicEvenMore

They make like 30.000$ of our City’s money and do nothing for anyone in Passaic. Wait I made a mystake they do something they complain how much time they have to spend on peoples problems thats about all they do is complain. lol

14 08 2007
jones

they make $25,000.00 plus about $15,000 in medical, dental, eyeglass and prescripton benefits.

total: salary + benefits $40,000.00 for each councilman and don’t forget an extra 15.2% for payroll taxes on the 25K.

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