Long Beach City Council members, in a special meeting Wednesday night, unanimously passed a $400,000 bond to cover retirement owed to police officers and city employees.
The bond was required to pay for the contractually required accrued time of $525,458 this year to four retired police officers. The police department has no cap on accrued vacation time.
The special meeting was called because the first payment was due this week, and to cover the $339,000 shortfall.
“The focus on police is a concern because we could be voting on something illegal if the comptroller found the practice is illegal,” Councilman John Bendo said. “But people are expecting their checks, and if this doesn’t pass, they don’t get them.”
Councilwoman Anissa Moore requested a moratorium on future bonds for separation payments.
City Council members approved $1.8 million in bonds last year to cover anticipated retirements, including $1.3 million in installments to employees who have already retired or left the city.
City officials said the $1.8 million in bonds was equivalent to about a 5 percent property tax increase.
Former Long Beach Comptroller Kristie Hansen-Hightower, who is contracted by the city as a financial consultant, said Wednesday night that the city would face a deficit and cash shortage if the $400,000 bond was not passed.
Council members also voted to generate quarterly reports on separation payments.
The vote followed a rally by Republican Nassau County District Attorney challenger Frank McQuade and residents calling for an investigation into separation payments made last year to former City Manager Jack Schnirman and more than a dozen current and former city management employees.
The payouts were for earned accrued vacation and sick time, including some drawdowns for employees who still work for the city.
McQuade said Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas should investigate Long Beach in addition to her review of termination payments to staff who remained employed at the county Industrial Development Agency.
“Long Beach can ill afford another financial scandal. We’re on the ropes and action is needed now,” McQuade said.
Singas said her office is already investigating the payouts and awaiting the outcome of an audit by the state comptroller.
Comptroller officials said the first audit regarding the payouts will be released this summer. A second audit looking at the city’s overall finances is planned by the end of the year.
“The district attorney’s office promptly began investigating these separation payments when they were first reported. Throughout our investigation we have collaborated with the Office of the New York State Comptroller as they have audited these payments,” said a statement from the district attorney’s office. “Our investigation is ongoing, and consistent with our legal and ethical obligations, we will not comment on the substance of a pending investigation.”
City officials said the payments are legal, but they have ended the practice of drawdowns or sick and vacation time for active employees.
They also said the payments were issued correctly under the city’s payroll code, based on a 2000 memo that allows employees to accrue up to 50 days of vacation time, or 400 hours, plus at least 30 percent of unused sick time and another 25 days by the end of the year.