In a resolution this week, Niagara County lawmaker Randy R. Bradt (R- North Tonawanda) is calling upon the NYS Attorney General and the NYS Comptroller to investigate the possibility that Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, (D-Niagara Falls) has been unfairly spiking his pension - at the expense of taxpayers.
Bradt alleges Virtuoso and Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster have worked together to maximize Virtuoso’s overtime earnings, utilizing Virtuoso's dual role as acting director of code enforcement and chief code enforcement officer for the City of Niagara Falls.
Virtuoso was made acting Director of Inspections by Mayor Dyster on July 20, 2009, when Director of Inspections Guy A. Bax was placed on leave in the course of an FBI investigation of the conduct of the Niagara Falls Department of Inspections.
Bax did not return to work, formally retiring Jan. 1, 2011, and Virtuoso has continued to function as head of the department in an "acting" capacity, permitting him to be both head of the department, which is typically a non-union position, and chief code enforcement officer, which is a union position, and qualifies for overtime.
Virtuoso, 62, is also a county legislator and, with 25 years in the pension system, is eligible, upon retirement, to collect a pension disbursed through the New York State and Local Retirement System for having held both the city and county positions.
The resolution charges that Mayor Dyster has not endeavored, in the 56 months since Bax was placed on leave, to conduct a search for a permanent replacement, allowing Virtuoso to continue to receive overtime.
It is true that Virtuoso has piled up considerable overtime in recent years, and, since New York State pensions are based on an employee’s best years of income, Virtuoso is in line for a comparatively substantial pension. His base pay is $68,925, plus an $8,000 stipend for his duties as acting director. In addition, last year he earned more than $17,000 in overtime and call in time, earning about 50 percent of the overtime budget allocated for his 11 person department and boosting his income to about $90,000 for the year.
On top of that he earns $17,000 as a county legislator and an additional $500 as minority leader.
Virtuoso earned $90,453 in 2013, $95,551 in 2012 and $88,526 in 2011, including overtime, not counting his salary as a legislator.
"It could be a pension padding scheme, 'could,' I said," Bradt told the Reporter. "If things look fishy, I am going to ask the tough questions. Dennis Virtuoso implied all sorts of things because I ask questions. I wanted to learn a little more about Dennis and, lo and behold, I find he has been an acting director for four years. There has never been an active search for a director.
Why has he been acting director for four years?"
Virtuoso told the Reporter that Bradt had his facts wrong.
First he said, the directorship has not been vacant just since his predecessor, Bax, was placed on leave. He said Bax was an acting director, too. Bax’s salary in 2009 was $65,504.
“There hasn’t been a director in 18 years, since Mayor James Galie,” Virtuoso said, when Virtuoso himself took a leave of absence from the union to assume the directorship on two separate occasions.
"Guy (Bax) took overtime and comp time, and even when Bax was acting director, I still got overtime for fires and demos, because, I was then, and still am, the chief code enforcement officer."
All of his overtime, Virtuoso said, is driven by call ins from either the fire department of the police department. Whenever a fire damages a building, Virtuoso said he has to go out and determine if it needs to be condemned, boarded up or demolished. If police find a dangerous condition or likely serious code violations, Virtuoso, as chief code enforcement officer, by union rules, is the one who has to be called, according to the job description published by the city of Niagara Falls.
"If I was director, I could not be called in to supervise demos and fires because it is prohibited by the union contract. I do not make up my own overtime…. Actually, I do two jobs and save taxpayers money. If they had to hire a director, instead of $8,000 per year it would be $80,000 a year."
Virtuoso said that, even if he wasn't director, he, as a union chief code enforcement officer, would still get the call ins, which comes with, by union contract, a minimum of three hours straight time and two hours overtime.
"The director is non-union. I'm union. He can't do my job."
But Bradt who saw Virtuoso's pay leap from $59,000 in 2009 to now more than $90,000 is not convinced that it does not bear further scrutiny.
Bradt also suggested that it is possible that Mayor Dyster had a motivation to aid Virtuoso, citing disclosures on file with the New York State Board of Elections whereby the Friends of Dennis Virtuoso made $780 in campaign contributions to the Friends of Paul Dyster.
Meantime, Virtuoso shot back at Bradt, pointing out that Bradt has, according to public records on file with the Niagara County Clerk's office, an outstanding unpaid sales tax judgment against him from the state of New York in the amount of $9,031.42 as calculated from the date of judgment at 14 percent interest.
Bradt said the amount is less than that and that the judgment was from unpaid sales tax from a restaurant business he started, which failed, and that he has entered a written payment agreement with the state, is faithfully making monthly payments, and expects to pay the delinquent sales tax in full by the end of year.
Democratic County Chairman Nick Foster was quick to seize on this discovery of unpaid sales taxes.
“Nothing new has changed with the Republican attack dogs,” Forster said. “The names have changed, but the personal attacks are the same. The newly hand-picked anointed legislator replacing Paul Wojtaszek is daring to raise questions about Dennis Virtuoso’s pension? ….Bradt ….owes over $9,000 to NYS Tax and Finance and he dares to complain about taxpayers having to contribute to state pensions? This is the quality of legislator you get from the GOP these days.”
Meantime, Bradt is still calling for an investigation.
"All I am asking is for the state comptroller and the attorney general to investigate it because it is an unusual arrangement," Bradt said. "I'm not implying, just asking for it to be looked at.
All I’m saying is, it could be a pension-padding scheme. And we have standing. Niagara County taxpayers are going to pay part of his pension.”