As the standoff in Wisconsin garners more news attention and New Jersey Governor Christie and New York Governor Cuomo pledge to fight the increasing costs of pensions, public employees and their pensions have been thrust into the spotlight.
While this issue affects everyone locally, the issue must be dealt with on a state level in New York because New York State administers the pension system for all employees. New York State sets the contribution rate that all municipalities must pay.
While pension costs are set at the state level in New York, there is something that municipalities can do to stop runaway pensions. By controlling overtime abuse, cities villages and towns can curtail excessive pensions.
In a story in the Journal News, “Police, fire pensions gap widens” by Jonathan Bandler, the writer discusses the average pension for recently retired uniformed workers in Yonkers was nearly $100,000. Mr. Bandler also writes:
Only two of those from Westchester were non-uniformed retirees: Gregory Meehan, who was a vice president at Westchester Medical Center and has a pension of $138,031, and Gary Pecor, a retired water foreman in Mount Kisco. Pecor made headlines earlier this decade when his annual overtime repeatedly topped six figures. His $125,447 pension was based on his best consecutive 36 months — 2001 to 2004 — when his salary was only $65,000 a year but he totaled more than $400,000 in overtime.
Pecor, 57, said his wasn’t a case of pension padding because he worked excessive hours over several years — and that his overtime was mostly when the town’s seven-man water department was down to three, and sometimes only two, employees.
“(Public sector) workers have become the dancing chicken in the spotlight but I took the job for the retirement and benefits, certainly not for the salary,” Pecor said. “I was publicly beat up for the overtime I got but I had to work it.”
That is a nice story but it is simply not true. Today, there are only three employees in the village’s water department and that number was recently down to two because medical leave. After I was appointed Deputy Mayor in 2003 upon the election of Mayor Cindrich, the Village Board made it one priority to reduce unnecessary overtime in the water department. The water department employees were performing unnecessary work when Mr. Pecor was building up his pension. Once proper supervision was put in place and certain changes in work rules were negotiated by the village, water department overtime decreased. Water department overtime hours are less than half of what they were in 2003 when Mr. Pecor was a supervisor in the water department and the union representative.
The decrease in overtime expenses was the result of proper supervision and negotiated changes in work rules. Even with these lower hours, water service has improved. If these changes were put in place in 2000 instead of 2004, Mr. Pecor would not have his golden pension and taxpayers would not be stuck with the bill. That is what other municipalities, such as Yonkers, need to do to lower pension costs.