Albany County Republican Party Chairwoman Christine Benedict (Jim Franco/Spotlight News)
COLONIE — Republicans and Conservatives are calling on the state Comptroller to look into what they describe as a “disturbing trend” of double dipping by three of the town’s top elected and appointed officials.
Albany County Republican Chairwoman Christine Benedict and Conservative Party Chairman Rich Stack said Supervisor Paula Mahan, Town Attorney Michael Magguilli and Human Resources Director Rosemary Newton are all collecting full pensions and making a full salary.
According to Benedict, and backed up by the database on SeeThroughNY, a website that tracks public employee salaries and benefits, Mahan retired in 2015 between the time she won the election to fifth term as supervisor and when she was sworn in early the following year.
Since 2016, Mahan has been collecting a pension of $81,758 and a salary as supervisor of $123,006.
Magguilli “retired” on Feb. 27 and collects a pension of $71,149. The Town Board, on Feb. 28, “reinstated” him at a salary of $80,000 for 2019. In the proposed 2020 budget, there is $105,913 allocated for the town attorney.
Newton retired in 2010 and gets a pension of $79,247. Mahan said Newton has been in her administration since 2008. In March 2019, via Town Board resolution, her wage was set at $57.74 an hour for a prorated annual salary of $67,9900. In the proposed 2020 budget, there is $88,131 allocated for the director of human services position,.
“Just yesterday, Mahan proposed another tax increase as she collects more than $200,000 a year being supervisor in the Town of Colonie,” Benedict said during a press conference at Republican headquarters on Central Avenue. “Today we are calling on the New York state comptroller and see if the town supervisor, the town attorney and the director of human resources should have to make reimbursements to the taxpayers.”
Generally, the state allows a retiree to make up to $30,000 and still collect a full pension. The income limit is lifted in the year the retiree turns 65. There is no limit as to how much an elected official can make and still collect a full pension.
Prior to getting into politics by running for office in 2007, and getting sworn into office in 2008, Mahan spent 29 years working in the North Colonie School District. She rolled those retirement credits over from the teachers’ system into the public employee retirement system. At that time, she could have retired, collected her full pension and still collected the full supervisor’s salary because of the exception mentioned above.
She said, though, she chose not to because she was younger and didn’t see the need. But, if something should happen to her, she said, and she was not collecting her pension, the amount her husband and family would see would be greatly reduced so she opted to begin collecting her pension.
“The rules allowed me to take it back then but I was younger, and didn’t see a need to do it, so I didn’t,” she said of taking her pension in 2008. “Now, I’m a little older and I’m told if you don’t take your pension, and something happens, you could lose it, or lose a portion of it, and I cannot afford to do that at this stage of my life. This is how the process works and I followed whatever the process is.”
As to the employees, she said Newton was income restricted until this year and the Town Board, by the resolution mentioned above, increased her salary.
Magguilli, she said, wanted to continue working but at a reduced salary. This year, he is making $113,663, according to the budget, and in 2020 he would make $105,913.
“I would not want to lose either one of them. They have a lot of background knowledge and they do a great job,” Mahan said.
Stack said double dipping should not happen at any time, let alone when taxes and fees are increasing each year and the town struggles to make needed improvements to infrastructure.
“This is a bad practice which falls on the shoulders of Colonie taxpayers and negatively impacts Colonie’s struggling finances,” he said. “It also has a devastating impact on the town’s work-force morale.”
Mahan, though, said there is a savings because once an employee begins collecting a retirement the town is no longer obligated to pay into the pension system. That mandatory contribution can be as much as 18 percent of an employees’ salary, depending on what the state Comptroller’s Office requires during any given year.
By law, the pension system has to have enough money to meet the pensions of all retirees and the pension of all employees still working. While that number if generally fixed, how the state meets that mark is largely dependent on the stock market where the majority of the pension fund is invested. If the market is doing well, the local contributions are smaller. If it is not doing well, a higher local contribution is required.
“I find it very misleading for the supervisor to double dip and to allow her employees to double dip,” Benedict said.
Mahan fired back and said her opponent, George Scaringe, was found to have basically a “no-show” job with the Hudson & Black River Regulating District, according to news accounts at the time, and has collected his $53,978 pension since 2004.
In November, 2004, the New York Post headlined screamed: “You paid this man 62g for 4 hrs. a week.” The “job” was disclosed after an audit by then Comptroller Alan Hevesi. Scaringe got the position through Gov. George Pataki while he was the Albany County Republican Party chairman.
Scaringe, according to the article, not only received full pension credit for the “part time job,” he also got health, dental and vision coverage.
“They have rules for them, and rules they think everyone else should follow,” Mahan said.