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Nassau comptroller to return money 'as quickly as possible'

Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman was the former

Nassau County Comptroller Jack Schnirman was the former Long Beach city manager. Photo Credit: Newsday/John Asbury

Nassau County Comptroller and former Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman said he will return "as quickly as possible" more than $52,000 that the state said he was improperly paid when he left the city job.  

Schnirman said he delivered a letter Thursday to the city comptroller stating his intention to return the money to Long Beach. He agreed with a draft state audit issued last week finding at least 10 employees were overpaid more than $500,000.

The audit found that Schnirman was overpaid $52,780 as part of a $108,000 separation payout when he left in December 2017 to serve as Nassau County comptroller. He took the position in 2012.

“Since the day I first heard questions being raised about a possible miscalculation, I have always said that I didn’t want any money that I shouldn’t have received, and would return any overage,” Schnirman said in a statement to Newsday Wednesday night. “And that’s exactly what I’m doing — I’m taking the necessary steps to return the overage, and doing so as quickly as possible.”

Schnirman was paid $73,113 for 100 percent of his 878 hours of unused sick time and $34,910 for 419 vacation hours. Auditors said the city code calls for sick time to be capped at 30 percent and for vacation time to be capped at 50 days or 400 hours.

State auditors found nine other employees were overpaid for accrued sick and vacation time they had accumulated. The comptroller’s office recommended the city seek to recoup any overpayments that did not comply with city code.

The city interpreted its  code to allow exempt and management employees to be entitled to no less than 30 percent of accrued sick time, multiplied by the rate of pay.

Former Public Works Director Jim LaCarrubba retired in 2016 with a $65,435 payout. He was hired back in 2017 as a labor relations secretary and consultant on Sandy projects. He received a $20,967 payout when he left the city in 2017 to serve as Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen's chief of staff.

"If the comptroller's audit determines that my separation pay was issued in error by the city, I will gladly return the appropriate amount," LaCarrubba said in a statement Thursday, adding he had not seen the audit. 

Schnirman said he relied on the city’s payroll department to calculate his separation payment after he submitted his documented time. He has said if an audit found payments were made in error, he would seek to return any overpayments.

The state comptroller began examining Long Beach’s finances last year after the city council defeated a $2.1 million bond to pay for separation payments, including for Schnirman.

The city has until Sept. 30 to respond to the comptroller’s audit.

The state audit found that Long Beach’s separation payment policies have been out of compliance for more than 25 years.

“I now understand that the methods Long Beach has been using to calculate payout amounts for at least the last 25 years are different from the stricter formula originally set out in the City Code,” Schnirman wrote.  “What the State Comptroller’s draft audit tells us is that the City of Long Beach has paid many types of employees more than necessary for separation pay for at least 25 years, including myself.”

The Nassau County District Attorney's Office and the U.S. attorney's office are investigating the city's payouts. Nassau officials said Thursday the investigation is ongoing.

Long Beach City Council President Anissa Moore said Tuesday that the city council has hired outside attorneys to seek the return of all money that was overpaid. She said residents have been carrying the burden of mismanagement for the past three decades. She did not return a call for comment Thursday.

Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) urged the city council at Tuesday night's meeting to recoup payments.

“Now that we know the payments were made wrongfully, It’s incumbent upon you to get the money back,” Kaminsky told council members.

During Schnirman’s tenure, the city council approved a retirement incentive in 2012. The city also offered a retirement incentive in 2014 to both union and exempt employees.

City officials said previous city managers have provided payouts for 100 percent sick time since at least 2008 and the city has paid exempt employees 100 percent accrued time since 2014. The city also had an unwritten policy to give exempt employees the same benefits given to union employees, but the city code was never amended.

Police and firefighters in the city are also customarily paid for 100 percent of accrued time, according to the comptroller’s audit.

The State Finance Restructuring Board found the average police and fire payouts ranged from $300,000 to $619,000. City employees can be paid up to 40 hours per year in retirement pay, in addition to unused sick, personal and vacation pay, and some police officers have retired with as much as 5,900 accumulated hours.

The state board also said the city passed an unprecedented $15 million in bonds since 2012 to cover separation payments to union, management, police and firefighters. 

The comptroller’s report also recommended the city council amend its code to clarify how unused accrued time is documented and paid out in collective bargaining agreements and city contracts.

“Thanks to the work of the State Comptroller’s Office, Long Beach now has the opportunity to implement even more reform, this time at least 25 years in the making — and the right thing here is to do my part first,” Schnirman wrote.

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