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Huntington supervisor collects state pension and salary

Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone on Feb. 18, 2014.

Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone on Feb. 18, 2014. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone, who was re-elected to a four-year term in November, is collecting state pension payments along with his $162,509 annual salary from the town.

Petrone, 69, put in for what he said is his $63,000 New York State Employee Pension as of Jan. 1. He does not plan to retire.

Elected officials age 65 and older are legally entitled to collect pensions and salaries at the same time. A 1995 state law prevents lawmakers making more than $30,000 from collecting a pension without a waiver. But it exempted those elected before passage of the policy. Petrone qualifies for the exemption because he has served as Huntington's supervisor since 1994.

Petrone, a Democrat, said he sought his pension now so the benefit could pass on to his wife. Petrone said if he had not put in for his pension his wife would have received a death benefit, but would not have been eligible for the pension.

"The only reason I really wanted it was because I want to protect Pat, my wife," Petrone said. "I had the option of taking a reduced amount, which I did opt to do, and it gives her my pension for her life. Taking it early and locking it in now, I don't get any more credits," meaning his pension payout will not grow.

The final payout amount is being calculated and the pension could be adjusted, said Nikki Jones, a spokeswoman for the state comptroller's office.

Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine, 67, a Republican, and East Hampton Supervisor Larry Cantwell, 63, a Democrat, also collect pensions from the New York State & Local Retirement System, Jones said.

Toni Tepe, chairwoman of the Huntington Republican Committee, said she disagreed with the practice. "I personally don't think it's the right thing to do," she said.

Petrone said he has accumulated pension credits since 1980, in jobs such as assistant Suffolk County executive, Huntington director of environmental control, and chief of staff for the Suffolk legislature. He also served as regional director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency for five years but does not receive a federal pension.

Robert P. Lawry, director of the Center for Professional Ethics at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said collecting a pension and salary at the same time is common.

"People do raise their eyebrows and suggest it doesn't seem to be seemly for someone to do that," Lawry said, adding that it is up to lawmakers to decide whether "this practice should continue or not."

"I worked for many years for it [the pension], and we have been partners," Petrone said of his wife. "She has sacrificed for me to be in this job. She has stood by me."

Petrone and his wife, a retired teacher from the Half Hollow Hills school district, have been married 43 years. Petrone said he was eligible to take his pension at 65 during his last term but decided not to.

He said, "I made the decision to run [for office in November's elections], so I said, 'Now let me make the decision to protect my wife.' "

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