Niagara County lawmaker seeks probe into suspected pension padding - The Buffalo News
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Niagara County lawmaker seeks probe into suspected pension padding

LOCKPORT – A resolution by Niagara County Legislator Randy R. Bradt accusing a fellow lawmaker of trying to pad his pension has drawn a harsh response from the target and his boss.

Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, and Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster both said Bradt had his facts wrong in a resolution filed for Tuesday’s Legislature agenda.

In it, Bradt, R-North Tonawanda, alleged that Virtuoso and Dyster have worked together to maximize Virtuoso’s overtime in his role as acting director of code enforcement and chief code enforcement officer for the City of Niagara Falls.

The resolution seeks an investigation from the state attorney general and comptroller and urges those officials to push the city to start a search for a full-time code enforcement director.

Bradt said such a person would have a fixed salary and would be ineligible for overtime, thus saving the city money. “Give him the job officially or start a full-fledged search,” Bradt said.

“It appears that this resolution is purely politically motivated,” Dyster said. “I would find it extraordinary if the state would interfere in a fairly trivial matter and one that’s a purely local matter.”

“It has nothing to do with the County Legislature,” said Virtuoso, who promised a full-scale rebuttal to Bradt on Tuesday.

“All I’m saying is, it could be a pension-padding scheme,” Bradt said. “Niagara County taxpayers are going to pay part of his pension.”

Virtuoso has piled up considerable overtime in recent years, and since New York State pension rules base benefits on an employee’s income during the last three years of his career, Bradt believes that not filling the department head post is a means to increase Virtuoso’s pension.

The resolution asserts that the directorship has been vacant since Guy A. Bax was placed on leave during an FBI investigation in 2009. Bax retired Jan. 1, 2011.

“I do believe this is a failure of Mayor Dyster,” Bradt said. “The bottom line is, when things look fishy, I’m going to ask questions.”

“There hasn’t been a director in 18 years, since the [James A.] Galie administration,” Virtuoso said. He and Dyster agreed that Bax was acting director, too.

Dyster said leaving the directorship vacant saves the city money. He said Virtuoso has a base salary of $68,000 as chief code enforcement officer and receives an $8,000 stipend to be acting code enforcement director.

The mayor said if Virtuoso were made director, he’d have to be paid more than his highest-paid subordinate. “The salary would have to be in the mid-80s. And then who’d have to do the chief code enforcement officer job? You’d have to create another position,” Dyster said.

While Bax’s salary in 2009 was $65,504, Virtuoso earned $90,493 in 2013, $95,551 in 2012 and $88,526 in 2011, including overtime, according to the website operated by the Empire Center for Public Policy.

The resolution criticizes Virtuoso for allegedly scheduling himself for overtime on Saturdays with the city’s ZOOM zoning enforcement patrols.

Virtuoso said that idea started with the city’s block clubs. “Community Development wanted us to do that, and it was approved [by the City Council]. I didn’t schedule that,” he said.

Dyster said, “Dennis doesn’t assign himself overtime for ZOOM. He gets a notice he has to show up for that. The rest of his overtime is driven by someone else.”

For example, if a fire damages a building, Virtuoso has to go out and determine if it needs to be condemned, boarded up or demolished. And if police bust a drug house, they call Virtuoso to decide whether conditions warrant demolition or code citations.

“I’m on 24-hour call,” Virtuoso said.


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