Joseloff wants to 'buy-back' his way into town pension plan
As town officials debate how to fund key public services in the next budget against a backdrop of tighter revenues, they may have to include another cost in their calculations: funding a pension for First Selectman Gordon Joseloff.
Unlike most town employees, the second-term first selectman is not currently enrolled in a town pension plan. But on Wednesday, he asked the town's Non-Union Supervisory Pension Board to allow him to enroll in a defined-benefit pension plan for non-union supervisory officials through a "buy-back" that would give him pension credit for his five years served as first selectman.
Under the proposal, Joseloff would join the pension plan join by making retroactive contributions to cover the five years he would have accrued had he enrolled when first elected in 2005. If he made such payments, his pension benefits could become "vested," or guaranteed, as is the case for other town employees who pay into the plan for five years. Joseloff's total buy-back would be about $24,100, including interest payments, according to Tom Hamilton, the town's personnel director.
The contract for the town pension plan that Joseloff wants to join mandates participation for most town supervisory employees. Other town officials, such as Finance Director John Kondub, are included in the plan. Joseloff was allowed to opt out because participation is not required for employees 60 years old or over at the time they are hired. Joseloff, now 65, was 60 when he won the first selectman's post.
Several factors, however, complicate the board's review of Joseloff's request. The first hurdle was that the first selectman is a member of the four-person panel, so Joseloff had to recuse himself from reviewing his own pension request.
Parsing the intent of the supervisors' contract also presented challenges for board members. While the pact allows town employees with previous public sector experience to make pension buy-backs, it does not specify whether such an option is available to Joseloff, who did not hold any paid government jobs prior to becoming first selectman.
That ambiguity appears to allow for another body to determine the legitimacy of Joseloff's request, said Floyd Dugas, the town's labor counsel.
"I don't think it applies to this situation," he said of the contract. "Ultimately, it's up to this board to interpret the plan."
The lack of guidelines in the town supervisors' contract on how to review such a request elicited a wary response from board members.
Fellow board member, Ed Brennan, agreed with Garten.
"With all the questions raised, I feel uncomfortable moving on it without learning more about it," he said. "It's complicated and has implications beyond Gordon (Joseloff)."
Uncertainty also emerged about Joseloff's options should the board turn down his request. Garten said she did not know what an appeals process might entail, while Dugas said he would consult with Town Attorney Ira Bloom to determine the types of legal recourse available to Joseloff.
The buy-back proposal appears to be an uncommon request. Hamilton told the board he was not aware of any other town employees who tried to join a pension plan after previously opting out.
Joseloff told the Westport News he had two main reasons for deciding not to join a town pension plan when he was elected. In addition to enrollment being voluntary, he said he did not want to have to try to recoup contributions after leaving the plan had he not been re-elected in 2009.
"If I were going to invest the money I wanted to invest it myself as opposed to with the town," he said.
As first selectman, Joseloff is paid an annual salary of approximately $101,000, and also receives a municipal health benefits package. That salary has not increased in the last five years, according to Kondub.
If the board does approve the buy-back request from Joseloff, the town's annual required contribution to its employee pension plans would likely increase, Kondub told the Westport News. For the current 2010-11 fiscal year, the town budget allocates approximately $8 million to the pension plans on an actuarial basis.
Kondub added that the Finance Department is working to determine the budgetary impact of factoring in Joseloff's five years of service as well as future years of his inclusion in a town pension plan.
Without a formal process in place yet for considering Joseloff's buy-back request, the board decided to continue its review to its next meeting. The Non-Union Supervisory Pension Board has not set a timetable for taking action on the buy-back request.