State bill to allow four Niskayuna officers to receive full retirement benefits

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NISKAYUNA —  Four Niskayuna police officers are set to receive long-sought full retirement benefits after state legislation was signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul.

The new bill, sponsored by state Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, will allow four town officers to receive the same comprehensive benefits as their peers, resolving a decade-long loophole.

The four officers – John Connor, Paul Daly, Jeffrey Relation and Joseph Twitty were each hired over two decades ago and had been assigned by default to a state retirement plan that offered less comprehensive benefits than plans offered to officers hired in their wake, which feature full retirement benefits after either 20 or 25 years of service, regardless of the officer’s age.

In the spring, the Niskayuna Town Board passed a Home-Rule resolution seeking to allow the four officers to enter into a retirement plan with the same benefits as every other Niskayuna police officer. The town then requested that state lawmakers adopt legislation to allow the changes.

“The way the system works is that when something is the desire of a municipality like Niskayuna to accomplish, they pass a Home-Rule resolution,” Steck said on Tuesday. “Whenever we get a Home-Rule resolution from Niskayuna or any town, we obviously want to make that happen unless there’s some offense to state policy, which isn’t the case here. These officers appear to be deserving of being treated the same as everybody else, so we wanted to make sure that this happened because Niskayuna wanted it and the officers deserved it.”

Niskayuna Town Supervisor Jaime Puccioni said she made the issue a priority, with the legislation allowing the town to pay past service costs for the four officers, with the town set to fund a lump-sum payment to cover the difference between what was paid into the system on the four officers’ behalf and what should have been paid if they were enrolled in the same state retirement plans as their peers.

“I’ve been a union member for probably my entire adult life and as soon as I learned about it in January [2022] when I came into office, I knew this needed to be resolved,” Puccioni said on Tuesday. “It’s for the officers’ sake and for the well-being of the police department and their morale and for the community. We want our officers to have access to proper retirement benefits. When the police department has good morale, we can have good policing. It had been unresolved for far too long.”

The town will fund the one-time payment of $712,000 for the benefits from an unused allocation in the 2022 budget, with the remainder drawn from fund balance.

The supervisor said the town is not required to take any further action.

“For all intents and purposes, this issue is resolved,” Puccioni said. “We simply need to pay the amount that is required to put those officers in the appropriate retirement plan and everything is resolved.”

Puccioni said that once the four officers are placed in the correct plan that the town does not expect similar issues to crop up going forward.
Since 2008, nearly 100 pieces of legislation have been passed to amend similar issues with other municipalities statewide, with the state’s Retirement and Social Security Law amended in 2015 to stipulate that moving forward, all police officers default to retirement plans that are based on 20 or 25 years of service.

Niskayuna Police Chief Jordan Kochan credited the town administration for securing the four officers’ full retirement benefits.

“This is outstanding teamwork by our Town leadership to make this happen,” he noted in a statement. “Thank you to everyone who worked on this. I am very thankful for the leadership of Supervisor Puccioni and Town Councilmember Jessica Brennan, the support from Councilmembers Jason Moskowitz, John Della Ratta, Bill McPartlon, and the tenacity of both Assemblymember Steck and Senator James Tedisco in getting this accomplished. Thank you also to the affected members and their families who have had continued patience and perseverance. With this legislation enacted, morale is up and the Niskayuna Police Department is looking forward to a very promising new year.”

Categories: News, News, Schenectady County, Your Niskayuna

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