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Amityville considering canceling health benefits for some former village officials

Amityville Village Hall is shown on Feb. 25,

Amityville Village Hall is shown on Feb. 25, 2014. Credit: Steve Pfost

Amityville Mayor James Wandell says the village will likely move ahead with plans to cancel health benefits in the next budget year for some former officials.

In an email to village residents last Friday, Wandell described the move as a necessary response to the "fiscal disaster" brought on by police salaries and construction costs associated with a new Village Hall built in 2009.

The email puts the average police salary at $164,000 last year and the cost of work done at Village Hall at $12 million. Salaries for nonunion village employees are currently frozen, and Wandell, Deputy Mayor Jessica Bernius and trustee Nick LaLota have asked the police union to make pay concessions.

One former trustee who receives the benefits said he will sue the village to prevent cuts.

"They'll get sued and they'll lose," said Joseph Slack, 82, who served 15 years on the Village Board.

Wandell's email blames the administration of former mayor Peter Imbert for Amityville's finances, a claim he and LaLota have made before. Imbert, who was traveling and not available for comment, has in the past defended the police contract and Village Hall construction as necessary long-term investments.

Cutting the benefits for former part-time officials will save the village about $100,000 a year, Wandell writes, making it easier to keep property tax increases within the state-imposed cap as trustees look to close a $958,000 deficit in the $16.2 million spending plan for next year.

Besides Slack, former officials who could be affected under the cuts include: trustees Edward Johnson and Peter Casserly, Mayor Emil Pavlik, Carol Ketcham, the secretary to the village assessor, and village attorney Stephen Kretz. Casserly and Ketcham did not comment, and Johnson and Kretz could not be reached Tuesday.

"To have them turn on me and do something like this, I was totally shocked," said Pavlik, 79. "I have a heart condition -- where am I going to get insurance?"

According to Wandell's email, "The overwhelming majority" of them have access to Medicare, and all would have an "extended period" to find alternate coverage.

Complicating the picture is research by village attorney Richard Handler suggesting that a 1983 Village Board resolution may limit officials' eligibility.

Municipal efforts to abolish benefits for former employees have generally withstood court challenge, said Handler. The Village of Greenport, for example, successfully defended a suit by a former mayor over rescinded benefits in 2009.

Current trustee Dennis Siry suggested at a recent budget work session he might oppose the cut as unfair. Wandell, LaLota and Deputy Mayor Jessica Bernius have signaled their support. Trustee Kevin Smith did not voice an opinion on the matter at the meeting.

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