Going forward, Council members must serve 10 years to be eligible for pension
The years of credible service in order for elected officials to earn a pension just increased from six to 10.
According to Personnel Director Oscar Shelton, 20 retirees currently collect a pension, two of which are going to the spouse of a deceased elected official. The total annual cost is $154,699. Of that amount, the pensions of five retirees include time they worked as employees of the city, as well as elected official service.
The change came last Monday with second passage of an ordinance introduced by Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson.
The new ordinance does not impact current elected officials, but those coming in to office in the future. Also, council members cannot implement changes that will affect them while they are in term.
Council President Bruce Place recently appointed a committee, which consisted of Ward 9 Councilman Steven Merolla, City Finance Director Ernie Zmyslinski and residents Rick Cascella and Bill Russo, who researched the issue and recommend the increase.
Resident Richard Langseth opposed passage last Monday and suggested the council further review the issue. He feels they are “opening up the doors” for part-time city employees to be eligible for pensions.
“If you have a lifeguard that says, ‘Hey, I want my pension, too, you have no choice but to give them a pension,” said Langseth. “Be careful about this.”
But School Committee member Gene Nadeau was in favor of it. He commended the council for taking action on the matter.
“I really applaud this and think it has to go across every department in the city,” he said at the meeting. “No one should receive a pension after six years of service, no matter what committee they serve on or what position they hold.”
In terms of health insurance, Shelton said, an ordinance was signed into law on Feb. 19, 2009 that says that any City Council member whose first term in office begins after the date of passage of the ordinance would not be entitled to health insurance once they left their position with Warwick.
Vella-Wilkinson also put forth a resolution in regards to the city noise ordinance to establish a committee to review current policy, which passed on an 8-1 vote, with Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon in opposition. He also voted against another resolution she drafted to create a committee to review tax exemptions for veterans.
At the meeting, he said while he supports the intent of the legislations, he disagrees with both because he felt the committees will be unilaterally formed by Vella-Wilkinson. Instead, he said, the committees should be chosen by the appointments committee.
In a phone interview on Thursday, Vella-Wilkinson said Place has the final say after she makes her selection. Further, she said she isn’t going through the appointments committee, which she is a member of, because she is trying to get the issues in place in a timely fashion, as constituents raised concerns at the meeting in relation to the noise ordinance not being modified before the summer season begins.
“Under normal circumstances, it would go through the appointments committee and that would add a minimum of two months to the process,” she said on Thursday. “That’s why I opted not going there. The other council members understood that because we want to meet a particular deadline.”
Resident Roy Dempsey said he views the tax exemption resolution, as well as another resolution Vella-Wilkinson drafted last month that offers veterans discounts on pool passes at McDermott Pool, as “feel good legislations.”
In the case of the pool pass, Vella-Wilkinson believes it recognizes veterans who return from serving the country with disabilities. She doesn’t agree that it is merely a “feel good legislation.” “It’s something to offer veterans to help ease some of their pain,” she said.
In terms of tax exemptions, she said the resolution would eliminate discrimination against certain veterans, as the current city tax code does not provide the exemption to all veterans. Those who served during the same time but did not receive a campaign ribbon or did not serve in a combat area, such as those who served in the Cold War, do not all qualify for the exemption. She said there are also specific timeframes where veterans from the sea services may not be eligible.