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The Sweetest Pension Deal

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

 

Out on a tax-free disability pension, earning more than he ever did as fire chief, Victor Cipriano is running to be Johnston’s next mayor.

A GoLocalProv investigation has found that Cipriano, who made $73,300.04 in his last full year on the job, received special bump-ups in his pension pay and is now earning $83,381.82—all of it tax-free.

Cipriano is running on a platform of fiscal responsibility and tax relief, calling for a reduction in the number of workers the town has. “I see some fat in the budget, especially in the mayor’s office,” he told the Johnston Sun Rise in May. “I think we can have a leaner budget.”

A Special Pension Deal, Full of Perks

But Cipriano is not practicing what he is preaching. Town records obtained by GoLocalProv through a Freedom of Information request show that Cipriano’s own retirement benefit has plenty of fat in it, including:

● an annual pension benefit that is based not only on his salary, but also on his annual allowance for buying and repairing clothing, overtime work, and work on holidays

● an annual compounded cost of living adjustment that is equal to half of any raises active duty firefighters get

● a first-year 3 percent pay raise

● medical insurance through Blue Cross Blue Shield at no cost to him

● an additional annual longevity benefit of $4,206.90

● an additional monthly disability benefit of $250

If the bump-ups to the disability pension payments were not enough, Cipriano kicked off his retirement with a one-time severance payment of $58,543.81 based on all of his unused vacation days, unused personal days, holidays worked, and unused sick days. In fact, he is credited twice for holidays worked—once in his severance payment and then in the calculation of his annual pension.

If Cipriano is elected mayor, he would receive a salary of $75,000 in 2011, in addition to what he makes in retirement. Cipriano, however, has said he would give half of the money back to the town, still leaving him with an additional $37,500 in annual pay.

Cipriano’s tenure as fire chief is somewhat in question since his employment contract was never ratified by the town council, as required by the town charter.

Pension Deal Violates the Town Charter

Disturbingly, Cipriano, who retired in September 2005, earns the same retirement benefit that members of the firefighter union receive—but as fire chief he was not eligible for those benefits. Specifically, the town charter and the union contract exclude him from getting the same deal. Former Mayor William Macera awarded him those same benefits in a memorandum of agreement that was never ratified by the town council.

Town records show that the town followed the rules for other department heads, such as the police chief, deputy police chief, and the director of public works—all of whom had contracts ratified by the town council in 2005, the year Cipriano retired.

Cipriano Placed on Disability

Cipriano went out on a disability pension that is based on 66.66 percent of how much he earned while on the job—all of it free from state and federal income taxes. Had he not been on disability, his 29 years of service as a firefighter would have entitled him to receive a pension that was 72.5 percent of his salary, but all of it would have been taxable.

The former fire chief is on disability because of a knee injury. In October 2004, his foot slipped through a ladder rung causing him to twist his right knee. In November, Cipriano had surgery for a total knee replacement.

But town records indicate that Cipriano bounced back pretty quickly from the surgery. In January 2005, Cipriano arrived on the scene of a major fire. Macera even wrote him a letter congratulating him for his active role in the incident. “You arrived on the scene, barely recovering from knee surgery yourself, to help the department handle what could have been a severe catastrophe,” Macera wrote.

Nine months later, he took the tax-free pension—a financial windfall for Cipriano.

Click here to read Cipriano's response to this story.

 

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