New Legislation Resolves Issues with Niskayuna Police Officers’ Retirement Plans

Niskayuna, New York Assemblymember Phil Steck and Niskayuna Town Supervisor Jaime Puccioni announce legislation that resolves a decade-old issue in the state retirement system for four long-serving members of the Niskayuna police force. The new law, sponsored by Steck, authorizes the Town of Niskayuna to offer specific retirement options to these police officers (Ch. 752 of 2022).

Niskayuna had requested state lawmakers to pass legislation authorizing local officials to alter the retirement plans for officers John Connor, Jeffrey Relation, Joseph Twitty and Paul Daly. The officers were hired more than 20 years ago and were assigned by default to a retirement plan that was in sharp contrast to the other two state retirement plans selected by most police officers, which provide full retirement benefits after either 20 or 25 years of service, regardless of age.

Under the new law, the officers will receive the same comprehensive benefits. Steck’s law also allows the town to pay past service costs for these officers, providing a lump-sum payment to cover the difference between what was paid into the system on the officers’ behalf and what should have been paid if they were enrolled in the same retirement plans as their fellow officers.

“I made it a priority to resolve this issue, putting forward a Home-Rule resolution to allow these officers to enter into a retirement plan with the same benefits as all other Niskayuna police personnel. I am grateful that Assemblymember Steck moved the process forward by introducing the necessary legislation in the State Assembly and that Governor Hochul signed it into law,” said Supervisor Puccioni. 

“I would like to thank the governor for signing this legislation that makes available a benefit to these four public servants that puts them on an equal footing with other police personnel in Niskayuna,” said Assemblymember Steck. “I am pleased that our office was able to work with the Niskayuna Town Supervisor and the Niskayuna Town Board to implement the Home-Rule resolution and get this law enacted. These officers have served our community loyally and professionally, so it is an honor to be able to make this change.”

“Detective John Connor, Detective Paul Daly, Sergeant Jeff Relation, and Lieutenant Joe Twitty are the heart and soul of our 30 member police force. They are highly respected for their decades of service to the Town and deserve to plan their retirement as the rest of our police personnel. Now these officers are freed from the stress and worry of having to work many additional years on the job in order to receive full retirement benefits,” Puccioni added. 

Niskayuna Police Chief Kochan said that getting state legislation enacted required the commitment of many town and local officials to take action. “This is outstanding teamwork by our Town leadership to make this happen. Thank you to everyone who worked on this. I am very thankful for the leadership of Supervisor Puccioni and Town Councilmember Jessica Brennan, the support from Councilmembers Moskowitz, Della Ratta, McPartlon, and the tenacity of both Assemblymember Steck and Senator Tedisco in getting this accomplished,” said Kochan. “Thank you also to the affected members and their families who have had continued patience and perseverance. With this legislation enacted, morale is up and the Niskayuna Police Department is looking forward to a very promising New Year.”

Town Councilmember Jessica Brennan, who is also the Chair of the Town’s Public Safety Committee with jurisdiction over the police department, said “I am overjoyed that these four families can begin 2023 with the certainty that they can plan for retirement. The stress they have endured all this time is unimaginable,” Brennan went on to say that “assigning the officers to a pension plan similar to that of all other Niskayuna police personnel, was best for the Town, our budget, and the success of the Niskayuna Police Department.” 

Niskayuna was not alone in needing corrective action. Nearly 100 pieces of similar legislation passed since 2008 to fix the issue in other municipalities. The problem with prior default assignments to retirement plans was so widespread that in 2015, the Retirement and Social Security Law was amended so that all police officers default to retirement plans that are based on 20 or 25 years of service. However, the four Niskayuna police officers had started working for the town long before the state law was amended.

“This is a problem that is not unique to Niskayuna, but in our town it was uniquely kicked down the road for many years,” explained Supervisor Puccioni. “This problem could have been solved in 2010 for an estimated $176K or in 2015 for $309K. But the fact that these officers are at retirement age and all have well over 20 years of distinguished service in, and the fix is now $712K – we felt it was unconscionable and irresponsible to kick the can down the road any further.” 

Puccioni said that the retirement system problems needed to be resolved for multiple reasons, but as the Town’s Chief Financial Officer her first focus was the budget. After running the numbers Puccioni says her team concluded, “this is a case of invest today to save money tomorrow.”

“The situation we were in forced us to contemplate paying the salaries and benefits of four of our more highly compensated officers for an additional 5 to 17 years past the time when they’d be expected to retire.” Puccioni went on to say, “It is an expensive proposition made worse by the increased risks for illness, injury and mental health issues that can come in later years of service.”

Assigning the four Niskayuna police officers to the necessary retirement plan requires a one-time payment of $712K. The payments will be made from an unused allocation in the 2022 budget and the rest drawn from fund balance.