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Poloncarz asked for pension waiver; Request on behalf of Boehm is denied

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz sought state permission to allow one of his deputy commissioners to receive a full pension and a salary, despite Poloncarz's stance that those types of waivers are "not good for taxpayers."

The State Civil Service Commission last week turned down a request from Erie County to allow Deputy Highway Commissioner David A. Boehm to receive his full pension and salary for two years.

Instead, it allowed the pension waiver for Boehm only through May 31, noting that the county "failed to demonstrate that there were 'no qualified nonretirees available for appointment.' "

The waiver would have allowed Boehm, 58, to receive his full $80,055 salary as deputy highway commissioner in addition to an annual pension that state records show totals $86,408.

Instead, Boehm will be eligible to receive only a portion of his pension while he's working for the county. After his waiver expires May 31, the state retirement system will suspend pension payments for the year once his county pay exceeds $30,000, said Eric Sumberg, a spokesman for the state comptroller.

A spokesman for Poloncarz told The Buffalo News earlier this year that Poloncarz "had no intention to grant waivers" for returning retirees when he set out to fill top positions within his administration, but he noted that Boehm's situation was "in transition."

Since then, the county has submitted an application to the State Civil Service Commission to allow Boehm to receive both types of pay.

"The waiver was sought because Mr. Boehm was the best candidate out of the pool that was available for the deputy commissioner job," said Peter Anderson, a spokesman for Poloncarz. "It was a necessity to get him into that position."

Boehm retired from the county's Public Works Department in May 2009. Poloncarz hired him back in January to replace former Deputy Highway Commissioner Gary M. Zawodzinski, one of 47 appointees of former County Executive Chris Collins who were replaced by the new administration. County records show Zawodzinski has been bumped into his previous job.

Members of the State Civil Service Commission were told this month that only three people had applied for the job of deputy highway commissioner, including one who didn't meet the qualifications. The other candidates were Boehm and a former deputy highway commissioner -- who is not retired and who met the qualifications for the job.

The state commission approved only a limited pension waiver for Boehm because another qualified, nonretiree was available to do the job.

It was not clear whether Boehm will stay in the position once the limited waiver expires.

"That's pretty much up to Mr. Boehm," Anderson said. "As you know, that just came to light last week with the New York State commission's letter, so he just found out about it. We just found out about it, and he's still in the process of making up his mind about what's going to happen when the waiver expires."

Anderson said Boehm was not available to comment.

Under state law, a retired public employee who is younger than 65 can earn only a portion of his pension if he receives a public salary of more than $30,000. The State Civil Service Commission can approve a waiver to those rules.

Boehm, a former senior highway maintenance engineer, previously worked in a job that oversaw highway projects and maintenance and that often included overtime work -- one reason his pension was higher than the base salary he was earning when he retired.

Personnel Commissioner John Greenan said the county had two significant events that increased overtime in the years shortly before Boehm retired: the October Surprise storm and the crash of Continental Flight 3407.

"Particularly for these highway folks," Greenan said, overtime is "dictated by two things: what kind of capital work is going on and if there are a large number of disasters."

Boehm is one of three county employees appointed by Poloncarz who previously retired from the county and are eligible for a state pension. Department of Public Works Commissioner John Loffredo and Deputy County Executive Richard Tobe also returned from retirement to work in the Poloncarz administration.

Loffredo, who is 76, can earn his full pension of $64,589 and his salary of $118,402 without a waiver under state law because he's older than 65. Tobe did not seek a waiver and has said he would donate whatever portion of the $46,194 pension he would have earned in addition to his salary of $107,810.