Passaic City Council’s Benefits Scandal Continues…

7 08 2007

Meredith Mandell – Herald News

Passaic, NJ – Mayor Samuel Rivera said Monday the city business administrator had Rivera’s interest in mind when he put a resolution on the City Council agenda allowing elected officials to receive city-paid health coverage in retirement after 15 years of service instead of the 25 required of the city’s more than 600 employees.

“He saw that maybe I wouldn’t have enough to make it 25,” said Rivera, 60, who has 18 years of service with the city, according to the state’s Division of Pensions and Benefits. “He was just trying to help me out if I decided to leave.”

Greg Hill, business administrator, was unavailable for comment Monday because he was out of the office. Calls to his home in Pennsylvania were not returned.

The resolution was approved by the City Council in May; however, Council President Gary Schaer, responding to inquiries by the Herald News last week, wrote an apology for the resolution in an e-mail statement Friday. He promised to put forth a resolution to rescind it at the council meeting tonight at 7 o’clock.

The city codebook states that the council president is responsible for approving the agenda for the council’s meetings.

In a phone call Monday, Schaer said, “I’m going to have to try to get back to you when I can,” and hung up the phone. He did not respond to repeated phone calls seeking comment about the resolution.

This latest issue comes in the wake of the council’s approval in January of a $72.8 million budget with a 9 percent tax increase.

At the time, council members blamed the rising costs of employee salaries and benefits 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.

Less than three weeks before the council approved the resolution, Gov. Jon S. Corzine, trying to curb rising property taxes, signed reform legislation that removed elected and appointed public officials from the state pension system and established a 401(k)-style defined contribution program for all newly elected and appointed officials, among other stipulations.

Councilman Gerardo Fernandez and Marcellus Jackson said they misread the resolution and thought it applied to every city employee.

“I thought it was good way to get rid of people whose salaries are top heavy and who are 62 years old,” Jackson said. “You have some who are making a good buck, and they would like to get out. … I was under the impression that this was going to be everyone.”

Councilman Daniel Schwartz shirked questions about the resolution, repeatedly responding to questions with the words, “You’ll find out tomorrow.”

Councilman Chaim Munk did not return repeated phone calls.

Some of the city’s union leaders were tight-lipped about giving their opinions on the move by the council, which approves the city’s contracts with their unions.

Miriam Miesch, head of the city’s Passaic City Employees Association, representing white collar workers, did not want to comment for this story.

“I can’t really comment on it since it doesn’t affect the PBA directly,” said the Police Benevolent Association’s Tony Deintis, president of PBA Local 14.

In all city employment contracts, the municipality has agreed 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.

The state’s 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 its 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; according to the 2007 municipal budget, that cost $4.8 million.

Employees who retire and do not meet the years of service must pay monthly premiums ranging from $364 to more than $1,800, depending on their level of coverage, according to the Web site for the Division of Pensions and Benefits.

The City Council members are treated as part-time employees and earn a base salary of $22,800 a year with a $2,200 expense account.

Rivera’s salary, including longevity, is $117,957, according to a city salary list, plus he has a $6,000 expense account listed on the city’s budget.

Schaer, 55, and Munk, 41, have 12 years each in office. Schwartz, 42, has 10 years in office; Jackson, 38, has six years in office; Fernandez, 50, has 10 years in office; and Jose Garcia has six years in office. Newly elected Maritza Colon Montanez, 46, who succeeded Jonathan Soto, is in her first year of elected service and did not vote for the resolution.

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6 responses

7 08 2007
a.m.p.

They show a total disregard for the money our hardworking taxpayers have to pay.

7 08 2007
Huh?

Unfortunately, people with good intentions become politicians, then turn sour.

7 08 2007
Chanie

Why does Passaic’s business administrator live in Pennsylvania? For that matter, why do part-time employees (our city council members) get full benefits. No private-sector business does that. Don’t they all have other jobs anyway?

7 08 2007
fedupinpassaic

Kudos again to Meredith Mandell, she singlehandedly takes on our entrenched crooked government. Without her airing this and many other stories to the public our wonderful elected representatives would get away with murder and we would foot the bill. By the way Passaic’s business administrator lives in Pennsylvania, and is given a government car and gasoline to commute daily, no other city has that. What can we all do about this corruption and get to lower our taxes. Our mayor gets the second largest salary in the State of NJ out of several hundred towns even though we are from the smallest.

14 08 2007
jones

the Rivera/schaer administration has raised taxes and water sewage fees consistently for the past 8 years. Their gimmicks of separating the sewage tax which we now ADD to are tax bill and the parking authority are failures. And selling the volunteer fire dept. HQ’s and the attempted passaic head start building are just quick fixes and more gimmicks. So much for sound financial fiscal control and management.

14 08 2007
jones

the passaic business administrator and other managers get to drive the taxpayers city cars home at the tax payers expense.

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