City Council Demands Answers On $2.3 Million in Police and Fire Retirement Payments
Friday, November 2, 2012 • 9:38am
PATERSON, NJ – For the third year in a row, Paterson is planning to borrow money to pay the severance packages for retiring police officers and firefighters.
Under a proposal presented at Thursday night’s City Council meeting, Paterson would borrow $2.27 million and pay $163,440 in interest over five years to cover the retirement payouts for 22 police officers and six firefighters.
That would put Paterson almost $10 million in debt over the past three years to cover the public safety severance packages. This year’s list of anticipated retirement payouts includes $169,495 for deputy police chief Robert Drace and $140,000 for two police lieutenants – Patrick Papagni and Michael Recca.
“This is absurd,’’ said Councilman William McKoy.
“Absurb? This is obscene,’’ said Councilman Kenneth Morris.
McKoy grilled Business Administrator Charles Thomas about the policies and procedures the city uses to monitor and calculate the retirement payments. Thomas said each department keeps its own records on leave days because the city’s payroll staff is too small to handle that task.
“If the police department controls their own records, none of these calculations can be verified,’’ said McKoy. “The numbers could be tainted.’’
The council was scheduled to take a preliminary vote on the borrowing plan for the severance packages at its meeting on November 7, but officials put the brakes to that. Instead, the council scheduled a full discussion on the payments for its November 20 meeting.
Thomas told the council that union contracts allow public safety workers to get payment for 720 hours of unused leave days. “Going forward, it’s not the kind of contract we’re going to agree to,’’ Thomas said.
PatersonPress.com reported back in April that the city had not been enforcing the contractual limits on police officers’ leave days.
In addition to getting paid for unused leave days, Paterson police officers’ contract also provided them with something called “terminal leave” when they retire. In short, they receive the equivalent of 90 days’ worth of pay under terminal leave, according to the contract. That amount could be reduced, depending on the number of sick days officers took prior to retiring.
Also, Paterson police accumulate comp time, for which they get reimbursed at retirement. City records show that Drace, Papagni and Recca all had accumulated more than 500 hours – or roughly three months’ worth – of comp time as of May 2012.
McKoy pointed out that some individuals would be receiving about the equivalent of one year’s salary I their severance packages.
“That’s highway robbery,’’ said McKoy. “I’m looking at a lieutenant at $140,000. There’s something wrong with that. And I’m sure that you can’t prove all these hours.’’
Several years ago, in response to public outrage at six-figure severance payments, the legislature set a $15,000 limit on how much state civilian employees could reap in sick and vacation payments when they retire. But that limit does not apply to local government workers. Municipalities and counties have to set their own limits.
Cities normally would pay for the retirement packages through their regular operating budgets. But Paterson is in the throes of a multi-year fiscal crisis and officials say the city can only afford to cover the payments by borrowing the money. In fiscal 2011, the city borrowed about $4 million to cover retirements of 33 firefighters and 17 police officers. In fiscal 2012, it borrowed about $3 million for severance payments for 20 police officers and 14 firefighters.
Here’s the list of police officers and their projected payments under the fiscal 2013 plan:
Deputy chief Robert Drace, $169,495
Lt. Patrick Papagni, $140,000
Lt. Michael Recca, $140,000
Lt. Michael McGuinness, $118,939
Capt. Angelo Palatucci, $105,000
Lt. George Petrakakis, $99,195
Sgt. Angela Blow, $93,000
Lt. Paul Savastano, $82,584
Sgt. Lazzaro Mazza, $82,000
Patrolman Ray Bamond, $76, 895
Patrolman Carl Popewiny, $70,480
Patrolman Gloria McMillan, $67,461
Patrolman Robert Pleasant, $61,663
Patrolman Randy Billie, $58,530
Patrolman James Watkins, $55,000
Patrolman James Durkin, $52,231
Patrolman Donald Gatewood, $49,844
Sgt. Patrick Greco, $37,000
Patrolman Scott Petricca, $36,000
Patrolman Sweeney Melendez, $35,000
Patrolman Yuri Polanco, $25,000
Patrolman Sujeire Bilbao, $18,000
The firefighters and their projected payments are:
Deputy Chief Martin Krupinske, $128,116
Deputy Chief Edward Olszewski, $128,116
Capt. Theodore Carter, $94,355
Capt. Carl Larson III, $93,758
Firefighter Anthony Magna, $66,534
Firefighter Andrew Morabito, $66,534