Amityville will end health insurance for five long-serving former officials after a 3-2 Village Board vote Monday night, a move the board majority said will save the village more than $1 million in the coming decade.
“They’ve been able to take advantage of it,” Mayor James Wandell said. “They had a good run, and I’m sorry to have to change their lives, but I have to think of 10,000 residents.”
Former Mayor Peter Imbert, one of the officials with lifetime health insurance from the village, said in an interview Tuesday that the group has retained a lawyer and will seek what he called “legal remedies” for the loss of coverage. He called the decision to strip benefits “morally wrong.”
The former officials include ex-Mayor Emil Pavlik, 79, and trustee Joe Slack, 82, who have said they have depended on the benefits for years and that termination would be devastating because they will be unable to find affordable replacement coverage.
Board majority members say the move is needed as the village digs itself out of a hole that led the New York State Comptroller to list it as among the most financially stressed in the state.
And, village leaders said, the former officials should never have received the lifetime benefits in the first place because they failed to meet eligibility standards for benefits laid out in two decades-old village resolutions.
One of these requirements was 15 years of village service. “Not one of these individuals had a full 15 years of credited service under the New York State retirement system,” village attorney Richard Handler said. “That is a pure fact.”
Imbert disputed that. The former officials also said the board majority’s cost projections for the benefits are inflated.
The two sides even disagree on who was supposed to get in touch with whom after Wandell and trustee Nick LaLota suggested, near the end of a board meeting two weeks ago, that they were open to negotiation.
LaLota on Monday night said that trustees and Handler were finished reaching out to the former officials after five unanswered overtures. The other two are former village attorney Stephen Kretz and former trustee Ed Johnson.
Pavlik said Tuesday that he had not known the matter had gone to a vote, and thought Handler was going to contact him first.
“I had no idea,” he said. “I’ve got to digest this. This is a shock to me.”
He said the benefits had been given to him after he retired in 1997.
“In those days, there was a sense of trust in the village,” Pavlik said. “When the village clerk came, said, ‘fill these out, you’re going to have insurance,’ I believed him. That was the agreement, and I didn’t ask for a written contract.”