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Cayuga County legislators may soon be benefiting from beefed-up retirement credit, if the board approves next week a measure that would shorten the legislators’ work week in order to qualify for a full-year retirement credit with the state pension plan, rather than the two-thirds year credit they currently receive.

Proponents say a shorter work week would balance the legislators’ low pay to produce a full-year tax credit without increasing the county’s contribution to their retirement. But some legislators have moral qualms about improving their own benefits while cutting jobs elsewhere.

The measure to shorten the Legislature’s work week from 35 hours to 30 hours was approved 5-2 on Monday by the board’s Ways and Means Committee. The full Legislature will vote Tuesday.

The state determines retirement credit with a formula that factors in salary, minimum wage rate and work week.

Legislators’ salaries, which start at $10,100, are low enough that when spread out over a 35-hour weekly schedule, the hourly pay is less than minimum wage and results in members qualifying for only an eight month retirement credit.

A shorter work week will raise the hourly pay, in the eyes of the pension system, and allow most legislators to collect a full year credit. Legislators who earn the base salary, $10,100, will still fall short of a full year credit, but those who earn extra — the chair and vice chair of the Legislature and committee chairs — will benefit.

This move will increase the state’s retirement payout, but will not affect the county’s contribution.

Some legislators say the credit is an appropriate compensation for the work they do. Legislators also receive healthcare benefits.

“I think you’re not giving yourselves the justice you deserve,” Legislator Ann Petrus said to fellow board members at Monday’s meeting. “For heaven’s sake, give yourselves something out of this deal.”

Legislators Patrick Mahunik and Roger Mills voted against the measure.

“How do we cut positions and put people out of work and then increase our own benefit at the same time?” said Mahunik.

Both Mahunik and Mills cited the Legislature’s recent decisions to sell its Certified Home Health Agency and outsource cleaning services as examples of the board eliminating county positions, partly in an effort to cut down on the amount of retirement and health benefits the county will have to pay for former employees.

Mark Kotzin, a representative of the Civil Service Employees Association, said the union, which many county employees are members of, opposes the measure because other county employees have lost their jobs through the county’s effort to reduce operating costs. He pointed out that other part-time employees have not been offered the same benefit. They can opt into the retirement system, but do not receive a full year credit.

“It sends the wrong message to be voting on any type of benefit that will feather their own nests,” said Kotzin.

For Mills, the ambiguity of how many hours legislators actually work has contributed to his stance that the board should not be receiving the retirement benefits of full-time employees. He said he does not believe most legislators put in an average of 30 hours a week.

“It’s a part-time job,” Mills said. “And to receive a full-time benefit for a part-time job I don’t think is correct.”

As elected officials, legislators get paid regardless of how many hours they work. But the state needs to keep track of their hours for pension reasons. This is done by logging work hours over a three-month period once every four years, said Mary Jones, the clerk of the Legislature. Board members must also complete the log if their position changes – for example, if a new chairman is elected.

The process is based, in part, on honesty, she said.

Staff writer Sarah Gantz can be reached at 282-2237 or sarah.gantz@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter at CitizenGantz.

 

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