The Amityville Village Board voted 3-2 Monday night to rescind two decades-old resolutions that provide lifetime health insurance for some long-serving former officials, but stopped short of actually cutting the benefits.
In a heated discussion before the vote, two members of the majority, Mayor James Wandell and trustee Nick LaLota, said their predecessors on the board improperly allowed the former officials to qualify for benefits. The officials say those benefits have to date cost the financially stressed village close to $2 million.
Their statements were angrily rejected, and gave rise to debate pitting the needs of the village’s taxpayers against those of the six recipients of the health care benefits, who say they planned retirement based on insurance that was promised to them.
They include former mayor Emil Pavlik, 79, and former trustee Joe Slack, 82. Pavlik said that cutting the benefits now would ruin him. “Judy and I have nowhere else to go,” said Pavlik, referring to his wife. “This is a life-changing event.”
The vote broke along familiar lines, with Deputy Mayor Jessica Bernius joining Wandell and LaLota and trustees Dennis Siry and Kevin Smith opposing.
Resolutions passed in 1977 and 1983 call for the village to provide health benefits for village employees and officials, but appear to impose a number of eligibility requirements. Some of the officials have said they simply accepted the coverage that was offered to them by Village Hall after retirement.
Those benefits cost $105,000 last year and would cost $1.5 million to continue for the next 20 years, LaLota said.
Wandell and Bernius campaigned on a promise to cut them, and LaLota has included them in a range of spending cuts he says are necessary to ensure survival for a village that in recent years was counted among the most “fiscally stressed” in New York State by the state comptroller’s office.
LaLota is also, at 37, the youngest trustee by more than a decade, and he argued Monday night that an earlier generation of officials had cut themselves an “insider deal” that younger village residents shouldn’t have to fund.
“Why is it that my generation has to bear the burden?” he asked. “Unsustainable, unaffordable programs that aren’t anywhere else in the public sector, they’re the first ones on the chopping block.”
Those arguments met stiff resistance from Smith, Siry and several residents, including Bay Village Civic Association president Joan Donnison, and the board did not vote on a second resolution on the agenda that would have cut the benefits at midnight Feb. 29.
That does not mean that the board is dropping the matter, LaLota said.
“There is a discussion to be had on this about a compromise,” he said. “We don’t want the individuals who would have been affected to leave the meeting thinking that nothing is going to change.”
Several of those officials, including Pavlik, Slack and former mayor Peter Imbert, have hinted or said outright that they will sue the village if the benefits are rescinded.