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NIFA financial practices draw criticism in Nassau

Critics ask why NIFA’s counsel collects more than $300,000 annually in salary and pension.

As Nassau's financial control board, above, prepares on

As Nassau's financial control board, above, prepares on Thursday to reject Nassau's 2018 budget as unbalanced, some county officials are complaining about the Nassau Interim Finance Authority's own financial practices. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

As Nassau’s financial control board prepares on Thursday to reject Nassau’s 2018 budget as unbalanced, some county officials are complaining about the Nassau Interim Finance Authority’s own financial practices.

They point out that NIFA counsel Jeremy Wise is collecting a state pension and a salary for a total of more than $300,000 annually in an arrangement approved by NIFA in an unusual maneuver.

“This slaps us all in the face,” said Nassau Legis. Denise Ford, a Long Beach Democrat who caucuses with Republicans. “They get taxpayer money but they’re not an open board. They don’t follow proper procedures.”

Legis. Howard Kopel (R-Lawrence) said, “NIFA is costing us a couple million dollars a year. They should clean their own house.”

NIFA was created by the state 17 years ago to oversee Nassau County spending. Its operations are funded by Nassau sales tax revenues.

NIFA spokesman David Chauvin emphasized that Wise’s arrangement is legal. Wise is older than 65 and state law allows most state employees to collect full salary and pension starting the year they turn 65.

Chauvin also said Wise’s continued employment saves NIFA — and the county — money.

“Jeremy Wise has more than four decades of legal experience, 17 of which he has served as NIFA’s General Counsel. His legal acumen and firsthand knowledge has been vital to NIFA’s mission of safeguarding Nassau County taxpayer resources,” Chauvin said.

“Through this agreement with Mr. Wise, which had the full support of the board of directors, NIFA has saved the County more than $50,000 annually as it no longer contributes to his pension or pays the ever-increasing health insurance benefits for a new employee,” Chauvin said.

NIFA records show that its board voted on Sept. 22, 2015 to reappoint Wise and other NIFA employees to their jobs as part of the 2016 NIFA budget. The board resolution said the reappointments would become effective more than three months later — on Jan. 5, 2016.

On Jan. 2, 2016, Wise, who turned 65 later that year, retired and began collecting an annual pension of $107,275, according to the state comptroller’s office. His reappointment to his former job — through the 2015 resolution — took effect three days later. His current salary is $195,015.

Double dipping became an issue in the New York State during the recession of 2008, when critics complained that pensioners were collecting salaries for jobs that could be done by the unemployed.

This May, the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, ruled judges no longer could collect salaries and pensions. The 2013 prohibition by the state court system was challenged by several judges who reached retirement age of 65, but who continued to work until the mandatory retirement age of 70.

“We start with the basic proposition that New York’s public policy strongly disfavors the receipt of state pensions by persons also receiving state salaries,” stated the Court of Appeals.

Pensioners argue that if they don’t file for retirement, their spouses are not entitled to any portion of their pension after they die.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, the chief architect of NIFA when he was in the state Assembly and a frequent critic of double dipping, declined to comment. His office said the practice is legal.

NIFA warned it would reject Nassau’s 2018 budget after the Republican majority on the county legislature eliminated $60 million in proposed fee increases and filled the gap by boosting revenue projections and using existing fund balances.

Legislative Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said in a statement, “At a time when NIFA is demanding that the Legislature vote for high fees, they should not have allowed their counsel to retire, take his pension and collect his regular salary. Perhaps they should ban double dipping by NIFA employees and reduce its own budget which is paid out of County revenue.”

Chauvin noted that dozens of county employees — mostly investigators for the district attorney and county attorney offices — are collecting salaries and pensions, though they need waivers to collect full salary if they are younger than 65. All are former police officers who are working different jobs. They include Deputy County Executive Charles Ribando.

“Mr. Ribando retired from the New York City Police Department as a detective, a completely different system. He then received a waiver because he was appointed to wholly different positions in the Nassau District Attorney’s Office and then the County Executive’s Office”, said Deputy County Executive Ed Ward.

Another Nassau high-level double dipper is Civil Service Commissioner Karl Kampe, who retired on Feb. 27, 2008 — the year he turned 65. He was reappointed to his same job the same day by the county civil service board. The commission’s board cited the savings from no longer having to contribute to Kampe’s pension. Kampe earned $170,819 in salary last year and, the state comptroller reports, receives a $101,954 annual pension.

With Michael Gormley

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