LOCKPORT – At Tuesday’s meeting, the Niagara County Legislature continued its partisan brawling over the retirement health benefits of outgoing Deputy Election Commissioner Nancy L. Smith.
Smith, who was election commissioner until last month, was replaced by her longtime deputy, Lora A. Allen, who in turn named Smith as her deputy.
Smith is expected to stay only until her 55th birthday April 15, when she will become eligible to have the county pay 75 percent of her health insurance premiums for the rest of her life.
Smith has a total of 19 years in county service, and according to a 1998 Legislature resolution, appointed officials with 15 to 19 years of service are entitled to the 75 percent insurance payment in retirement. Those with 20 years or more are entitled to a 100 percent county payment of their health premiums.
“But for Lora Allen’s action … [Smith] would not be entitled to her health benefits,” County Attorney Claude A. Joerg said as Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, shouted interruptions.
Virtuoso said Joerg is wrong. He said the resolution gives Smith her benefits merely because of her service time.
“You guys are wrong. You’re calling me a liar?” Virtuoso shouted. “[Smith] didn’t have to be reappointed. She could get her benefits that day.”
“If they really believe in that interpretation, why would they keep Nancy Smith on until she’s 55?” demanded Legislator Paul B. Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda.
If the Democrats think they’re right, Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, said, “She could retire the day before she turns 55 instead of the day after.”
“She decided when she wanted to retire,” Allen said. “I am confident the right decision was made.”
The Legislature lacks the authority to dismiss Smith, whose appointment is at Allen’s pleasure, but the GOP majority did pass a resolution opposing her continued employment.
Democratic Chairman Nicholas J. Forster called Tuesday’s motion “one of the most ridiculous resolutions I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Depending on the option chosen, family coverage costs the county $12,000 to $14,000 a year at present rates, which have been increasing 5 percent to 8 percent a year, according to Risk and Insurance Director Jennifer R. Pitarresi.
Thus, Smith’s coverage would cost the county $9,000 to $10,500 a year.
In other measures, the Legislature passed a resolution of support for the removal of the Robert Moses Parkway along the Niagara River Gorge as far as Findlay Drive in Niagara Falls. Under the $52 million “Alternative 3,” which the Legislature endorsed, the two northbound lanes between Findlay Drive and Center Street in Lewiston are to become a “park road.”
State Sen. George D. Maziarz, Assemblyman John D. Ceretto, Assemblywoman Jane Corwin and Rep. Chris Collins all have endorsed Alternative 3.
Lewiston Councilman Ronald Winkley, Lewiston Mayor Terry Collesano, former Mayor and Legislator Richard F. Soluri Jr. and Old Fort Niagara Executive Director Robert Emerson all spoke in favor of the proposal during Tuesday’s public comment period. The state’s deadline for written or emailed comments is today.