Correction 12:01 p.m. Dec. 16: Changed medicaid to Medicare.
Story updated 12:59 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17, with explanations from Finance Director Tom Hamilton.
NORWALK, Conn. – Fact: Mayor Harry Rilling is drawing two checks from the city of Norwalk – a pension worth $86,000 earned during his time as a Norwalk Police officer and then as Chief of Police, and an $118,000 salary as mayor.
Fact: The first fact is not costing the city a nickel more than if someone else had been elected mayor. In fact, the city saved a small amount on health insurance when it elected Rilling, who receives Medicare but gets his supplemental coverage as a retired Norwalk cop.
The city may have also saved an additional $24,000 when Rilling beat former Mayor Richard Moccia. Several months ago, the Common Council voted to give the next mayor a 21 percent increase, from $114,524 to $138,468. Rilling vowed he would not accept the raise if he was elected. Moccia did not make any such vow.
Rilling said he would only qualify for additional pension if he serves as mayor for eight year or more, which is not quite accurate. He also pointed out recently that, as he has been a government employee for most of his life – 41 years with the NPD, plus his Navy hitch – he cannot collect social security.
Norwalk Finance Director Tom Hamilton clarified Rilling’s statements regarding insurance and pensions.
“As a non-public safety city employee, Mayor Rilling is a participant in the city’s 401a Defined Contribution Plan (we closed the city defined benefit pension plan to new hires effective July 1, 2012, so unlike Mayor Moccia, Mayor Rilling is not a participant in the city defined benefit pension plan),” Hamilton wrote in an email response to our inquiry. “The city puts in 5 percent of salary, and the employee must match the 5 percent. The employee vests in the city’s contribution after five years of service. If the employee leaves prior to five years, then the employee forfeits the city’s contribution (i.e. – the contribution is returned to the city).”
That would mean that, if Rilling serves only two terms as mayor, he would not receive any additional city-funded pension. If he were to serve three terms, he would be vested and receive the city-funded position.
“Mayor Rilling’s Police Pension is not affected by his employment as mayor (i.e. – he does not earn additional credit on that pension),” Hamilton said.
“With respect to medical insurance, because Mayor Rilling is Medicare eligible, certain expenses which would otherwise be paid by the city medical plan will be paid by the federal government under Medicare,” Hamilton said. “Therefore, this may result in savings to the city. The city is self-insured for medical expenses, and his supplement to Medicare is what is provided by the city for all police retirees. Because we are self-insured, we do not pay a traditional monthly premium to our health insurance TPA. We pay for actual claims cost, and a small monthly admin fee per employee. In the case of Mayor Rilling, we save the monthly admin fee by not having him on our insurance, but the claims cost will be whatever they are. So, the most significant savings is from the fact that he is Medicare eligible, not that he has declined coverage on the active employee health plan.”
Hamilton also clarified Rilling’s social security situation.
“The mayor pays into social security in his current position (as mayor), so the employee portion of social security is deducted from his pay. This is required under federal law. The police are exempt from social security, and are not entitled to social security benefits for their Police employment. I cannot say if Mayor Rilling will be entitled to any social security benefit when he retires, because it would depend upon whether he has earned enough quarters in social security from employment outside of his work with the Police Department. Given the fact that Mayor Rilling spent most of his career with the Norwalk Police Department, I would not be surprised to learn that he did not accumulate the necessary quarters with social security to be eligible to collect a social security benefit. However, his time as mayor will count toward that accumulation of quarters. I would also add, however, that individuals who spent most of their career in a position that did not participate in social security do not receive the full social security benefit even if their do accumulate the necessary quarters from other employment.”
Severance pay is another issue.
The mayor actually agreed to give back some of his severance money when he “retired” in 2001 in a deal that was a forerunner of Norwalk’s DROP plan.
Rilling received a $30,791.67 payout back then, including unused sick pay, vacation pay and terminal pay (a day’s pay for each year of service). He was actually entitled to an additional $15,395.80, but waived it as part of his retirement deal that saw him rehired on a contract akin to a consultancy, meaning he would get no further pension and benefits other that what he had already earned.
“I had virtually given back 150 vacation days that I never took,” Riling said. “The four weeks vacation pay that I did get represents 20 days, so I think I really gave back 164 days, something like that, because I had over 184 days of vacation on the books because of a few years when I had no deputy chief and there were things going on. I just couldn’t take vacation. So … it just built up and built up, with the understanding that if I was to leave I could get some consideration for being paid, reimbursed for those days. But I just dropped the issue and I never really followed through on it.”
Rilling’s payout was considerably less than what Deputy Chief Rosemary Arway received when she retired in 2008 after 28 years on the job. Arway, who qualified for a $77,707.70 annual pension, received a $90,739.62 payout when she retired, more than half of it in unused vacation time ($49,976.28).
Rilling’s payout was also less than what ex-Mayor Richard Moccia received when he left office. Moccia received $44,025.16 based on his final rate of $58.5052 per hour. The payout included $26,327.34 in unused sick time over his eight years, plus $10,969.73 in unused vacation and $3,656.58 for accumulated and prorated vacation time (62.5 hours). His terminal pay was $3,071.52.
Moccia is also collecting a pension based on his eight years in office.
“Under the terms of the Norwalk City Employee’s Pension Plan,” Norwalk Finance Director Tom Hamilton said in an email, “Mayor Moccia is entitled to a pension of $1,494.48 per month,” or $17,933 a year.
Alex Knopp, who served half as long as Moccia (2001-2005), received $6,897.48 on his way out, based on a salary of $45.9771 per hour. He received no terminal or unused sick pay; his payout was all unused vacation pay.
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