SUNBURY — Sunbury officials are staying quiet while scrambling to review the terms of a police contract that one official says “will break the bank eventually.”
Almost half the members of the Sunbury Police Department have figured out the contract signed by Mayor David Persing could pay officers lifetime pensions that are higher than their annual salaries, and in the case of retiree Steve Bennick, almost twice as much as his current salary. Under the terms of the agreement, spouses of the officers would be eligible for continued payments after the officer’s death.
That agreement was approved by Persing and Councilman Jim Eister, and then-City Council members Todd Snyder, Joe Bartello and Kevin Troup in June 2013.
Troup, now the city’s treasurer, says the contract “will break the bank eventually.”
The agreement added longevity pay increases and compensatory hours to pension plans. These features of the new contract will allow Bennick to parlay his $59,650 annual pay into $108,000 for pension purposes.
Bennick earns $59,650 as a base salary, and in 2013 earned $69,239 thanks to overtime.
His 2014 totals are not known yet, but he has exercised his right to be paid for the 240 compensatory hours he accumulated before retiring Oct. 1, and opted to work under the Drop Program, which allows officers to work up to five years after they technically retire. Under the Drop Program officers can collect their pensions and regular salary. Bennick said he was just asking for what is rightfully his under the contract.
Bennick may soon be joined by several other officers who are in the process of banking their compensatory hours.
The police contract allows officers to collect up to 240 hours of compensatory hours instead of taking the straight pay immediately.
That would mean that when these officers are ready to retire, some of them would be paid almost twice as much in retirement as they were paid as officers.
According to the 2013 city budget, two police officers earned nearly $80,000 with overtime, and the other members of the department were not far behind.
One of those officers is now the police chief, Brad Hare.
Hare earned $76,629, while collecting the more than $20,000 in medical coverage.
Hare was appointed chief in July after then-Chief Steve Mazzeo was demoted.
Officers exceeded the budgeted overtime by 185 percent or $50,000 in 2013 because of the investigation into the Nov. 11 slaying of Troy LaFerrara, 42, of Port Trevorton
Miranda Barbour, 19, and her husband, Elytte Barbour, 22, of Selinsgrove, are now serving life sentences after they admitted stabbing and strangling LaFerrara and leaving him to die in a city alley.
In 2014, $35,000 in overtime was budgeted, and as of Oct. 28, the city had spent $26,169.
Another perk in the police contract gives officers who work on their birthdays double-time pay.
After Mazzeo was demoted, council waited several weeks before appointing Hare, who now took a decrease in pay to become chief.
However, since Hare does not have a working contract, he is still eligible for reimbursable overtime, which would land him well above what Mazzeo made as chief.
Mazzeo declined to work overtime hours and was the only person in the department on-call 24 hours a day, a former councilman said.
Persing is not discussing the contract because it deals with personnel issues, but said he will be addressing the questions raised in the near future.
Troup said the information is open and available for the public to view.
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