Mayor to Attorney General: You Want to End Pension Padding? ‘Change The Damn Law’

Fulton Mayor Ron Woodward has short, sharp advice for Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and his investigation of alleged “pension padding” that puts pressure on local governments to solve the problem:

“Change the damn law.”

Cuomo last week announced he was widening his office’s probe into allegations that public employees across the state work unusually high amounts of overtime in the final years of their employment in order to jack up their state taxpayer-funded pensions.

The Attorney General asked for payroll and pension data from several dozen local governments, including Fulton’s.

Cuomo offered advice to local governments to reduce the cost of overtime:

  • Cap the amount of overtime a worker can receive;
  • Stop giving overtime on the basis of seniority;
  • Have a single person or office responsible for assigning overtime;
  • Change work schedules and, if necessary, hire a full-time worker.

Woodward, however, thinks Cuomo is pushing on the wrong end of the system.

He says the problem is the law governing retirements. It allows a worker to earn as much as 20% of his base salary in overtime in the years that are used to compute the worker’s pension.

“The way to fix it lies in the people who created it,” Woodward said. “If [the Legislature] didn’t want that to happen, why did [they] make it so they could do it? Why say you can make 20% more? That’s an invitation.”

Fulton spends a lot of money on overtime, almost all of it in the police and fire departments.

The fire department’s union contract contains a mandatory minimum staffing clause. That means that when a firefighter is sick or out on a long term disability or taking a vacation day, another firefighter must be brought in on overtime to replace him. A firefighter’s workday is 24 hours long, meaning one day of filling in results in 24 hours of overtime. Firefighters also receive what are called Kelly Days, which is a day off in addition to regular time off that is given to avoid working illegal amounts of overtime.

The police department’s overtime budget is about $370,000 for 2010. But much of the department’s overtime is paid for by outside agencies. Special patrols, such as STOP-DWI and aggressive driving, are usually paid for from state and federal grant funds. And more than $80,000 in overtime is paid for by the state Unified Courts System, for the officer who provides court security at Fulton City Court.

There is also a minimum staffing requirement in the police department.

The minimum staffing requirement was negotiated into city union contracts in the 1980s. Woodward believes the city stands little chance of being able to get the requirement out of its contracts, saying that the system of arbitration “almost guarantees you’re not gonna win” if you’re the employer.

So, about Cuomo’s suggestions:

  • Cap overtime per employee? “So you’re in the middle of a murder investigation and you say [to the investigator in charge of the case], the overtime’s up, call the patrolman and have him take over?”
  • Stop giving overtime by seniority? Centralize overtime? The city already does most of that.
  • Change schedules? Can’t. See the contract. Hire another worker? That’s just one more pension to pay.

“He’s focusing on the retirement issue because he’s running for Governor,” Woodward said of Cuomo. “The issue didn’t start last week.”

If Cuomo wants real change, Woodward said, he’ll push the Legislature to change the law to base pensions only on a worker’s base salary. He doesn’t think that’s going to happen. “All they’re asking us to do is give something up and not do their jobs.”


  1. I totally agree with Mayor Woodward, on how a Civil Servant’s pension could be changed. I retired from the Postal Service, and worked an enormous amount of overtime, but my current monthly annuity is based on my base pay, and nothing else, including the overtime that I worked for 30 plus years.

  2. It really gets me how he (Cuomo) JUST figured this out and is ‘investigating’. Most people have known this for years and our ‘leaders’ who voted for 1) stopping contributions to public pensions after 10 yrs service, 2) voted not to tax state pensions at the state level , 3) allowed overtime to be part of the pension calculation and 4) put this minimum staffing into effect pretty much sold the taxpayers for a generation down the river. That’s why I’ve always advocated having a BUSINESS person with business experience run for office. They understand how the real world runs. It’s easy to spend other peoples money!

  3. Fulton could always go to a volunteer fire dept. and contract to the Sheriffs office for police coverage. Hey, that’s what they are doing in the Syracuse area.

  4. Two issues with that, Mike:

    1. Getting rid of the paid fire department constitutes a hidden tax increase. Fire insurance rates for every home and business would go up if that happened. Would that be offset by the lower cost of not having a fire department? And what would response times be under that scenario?

    2. The Sheriff’s Department only puts three or four cars on the road for the entire county. They’re unlikely to increase staffing if Fulton PD suddenly went out of business because closing Fulton PD would not increase revenue to the Sheriff’s Department. You’d have significantly less police presence in the city. Now, is it worth it — that’s the question.

  5. 130,000 home in granby pays less than $600 for homeowners. Contracting with the sheriff would mean having dedicated patrols in the city without having to pay for the top “Brass”.
    Has anyone asked the insurance companies how much the rates would really go up?

  6. Fire insurance: The issue came up some years ago during the administration of Don Bullard (no relation, but he was my friend and was one of the guys who founded this publication). At the time, the fire rating agency was threatening to increase the city’s fire rating (which controls fire insurance rates) because the city did not have a third fire station. It took a lot of time, but Don’s administration successfully argued that a city split in half by a river needed only two fire stations and that the response times from the two stations was good to any part of the city. A third station would have been overkill on one half of the city and of little use to the other. I don’t think they ever heard what a decrease in fire ratings would have done to insurance rates, but do insurance rates ever go up by just a little bit?

    As for the “top brass” thing: Any department adding staff at the bottom will add some staff at the top to manage them. About all you’d save is the salary of the police chief and maybe the deputy chief, since the city’s need for protection and investigation will not go down. And Fulton is unlikely to contract with another agency if the city will receive less service than it’s getting now. You might save some building costs, too, though the level of service might require a substation as a base. But it’s never the huge cost savings people think it will be. And are taxpayers in Pulaski willing to pay more (the Sheriff’s Department’s money comes from all of the county’s taxpayers) to provide service to Fulton and only Fulton? At best, other municipalities in the county would receive a marginal increase in police services, at an increase that probably would not be marginal.

  7. I agree with the mayor. If they don’t want to pay it, change the law. Personally, I would hate to work overtime. I enjoy my time off, but, if it mean that I would get more money every month during my retirement, it would be a wise investment into my future. I don’t work for the government though, so, I don’t have the luxury of knowing that I will even be able to retire. I do know a lot of seniors on fixed incomes, and it is hard enough for them to live on what they recieve, and if they had the option of upping their incomes they would do it in a heartbeat. I say go for it, take as much as you can get. I do hoever think that they city of fulton is robbing people on property taxes though, we are higher than any other state. If the city is looking to make up the difference, how about a furlough day once a month. Minimum fire, and police, (of course on call though), no one else, not even janitors. Just one person, incase of an emergency to call in who ever might be needed. That would mean no DPW, no court, no codes, no one. Not paid. Clinton did this and put us to a surplus for the one of the first times ever.

  8. I don’t agree with closing a police station. I happen to see the police is doing an alright job keeping drugs, and dangerous people out of our town. I have been seeing people from syracuse migrating this way, and they bring the herion, and crack with them. I have seen the city getting rid of a lot of them, before they have much of a chance to open up shop. I don’t want this here. I have a six year old son, and I don’t want him to grow up around drugs. I guess the number one drug at the high school these days is heroin. I don’t get it. When I went there was pot, and beer, but that is soft compared to this. I hope the city can find a way to get rid of this, and fast. Heroin leads to AIDS, and crack, and coke and ect… This all leads to robberies, and violence of all types. This is not the city I know, I hope they can fix this.

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