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Massena village trustees approve resolutions asking state to restore employee pension contributions


MASSENA - Village trustees voted Tuesday night to ask the state to reconsider the way it calculates its pension benefits, while also asking them to restore the mandatory 3 percent contribution for employees in tiers III and IV of its pension system.

Councilman Francis J. Carvel, who noted he is currently receiving benefits from the state pension system, abstained from voting. Councilman Timothy J. Ahlfeld, who proposed the measures, noted he will one day receive benefits from the plan, but since he is not a Tier III or Tier IV employee, he said he had no conflict in voting for the measures.

“I’m ready to vote on it,” he said.

Mark Patterson, who works for the village’s Department of Public Works and president of the CSEA union local that represents the DPW hourly employees, spoke out against both measures during citizen’s comments.

“I rise in opposition to resolutions 6C and D,” he said, referring to their position on the night’s agenda. “What these things do is nothing more than further ill-will towards public employees.”

Mr. Patterson cited an article which appeared in the Daily Courier-Observer several months ago and quoted Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray as saying he felt like public employees felt like they were better than private sector employees.

Noting he’s met dozens of public employees from all walks of life over the years, he said he has yet to meet one who thought he or she was better than anyone. “I couldn’t find anyone who thought they are better than private (sector) employees.”

Rather than taking away from public employees, Mr. Patterson said he would like to see the benefits received by public employees extended to everyone.

“We believe everyone should have a pension package,” he said.

Mr. Patterson noted that part of the reason pension costs have risen so much is there are 23,000 positions across the that he says have not been filled dating back to 2007. Had those positions been filled, that would be 23,000 additional people contributing to the pension system.

Mr. Ahlfeld pointed out that until 1999 employees contributed to the pension system. However, in an election year, then-Gov. George Pataki eliminated the mandate that required Tier III and Tier IV employees to contribute to the pension fund after completing10 years of service.

However, since that time, Mr. Ahlfeld noted the stock market crashed and the pension system lost millions of dollars, which had to be made up by school districts and other municipalities across the state.

From 2011 through 2013, he said the village of Massena’s pension contributions have risen by $370,000.

“These resolutions aren’t to hammer public employees,” he said. “Mark, if you look it that way you are wrong.”

Rather, Mr. Ahlfeld said the resolutions, which he hopes will be adopted by other communities, school districts and counties across the region, are intended to start a dialogue in Albany that may end in mandate relief that would help ease the burden of pension costs on taxpayers.

While Mr. Ahlfeld said he realizes not everyone would be supportive of these measures, he said he believes the majority of people would be.

“The people in the middle, the logical people, will tell you it’s a good idea,” he said, noting a 3 percent contribution to the retirement benefits you’ll one day receive isn’t much to ask for.

Voting to support both resolutions were Trustee Patricia K. Wilson, Mr. Ahlfeld and Mayor James F. Hidy. Trustee Albert C. Herb Deshaies abstained on the resolution in support of restoring the mandatory contribution, while he did vote in favor of recalculating the way pension benefits are determined.

Although Mr. Hidy supported both measures, he said voting in support of asking the legislature to restore mandatory pension contributions was not easy.

“Quite honestly, I don’t know how the hell to vote on this one,” he said. “I see both sides.”

Before ultimately casting his vote, Mr. Hidy said, “Boy this hurts. We’re charged up here with looking out for the financial interests of the whole village, not just the private employees.”

He continued, “I’m going to vote yeah on this and I’ll tell you why, for discussion purposes south of here. I’m going to vote yes on this and see where it goes.”

Mr. Hidy was quick to point out this resolution was simply asking the state to restore pension contributions.

“This is just a resolution,” he said. “Tomorrow Mark Patterson and our village employees won’t be paying 3 percent.”

In regards to the resolution asking the state to change the way pension benefits are calculated, Mr. Ahlfeld said it was a similar resolution, and one that would help end corruption and abuse across the state.

Noting that salaries often seem to jump significantly toward the end of one’s career due to overtime, which is used in the formula to determine pension benefits, he said pension benefits should be calculated based solely on an employee’s base salary.

“I don’t have a problem paying people overtime if they deserve it,” he said.

Mr. Ahlfeld also said he feels like employees in Massena and other communities where there isn’t corruption are suffering as a result of years of abuse by employees in other communities.

“Do I think there is corruption in Massena? No, I don’t. Do I think there is corruption in other areas of the state? Yes, I do,” he said.

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