Meriden agrees to pay police chief $47K to settle pension dispute

Meriden agrees to pay police chief $47K to settle pension dispute

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MERIDEN — The city agreed to pay outgoing Police Chief Jeffry Cossette $47,000 to settle a dispute over how his pension payments have been calculated.

Cossette, who retired and began collecting a pension in August but is continuing on as interim chief through June, recently threatened to sue the city over its decision not to factor in his accrued holiday pay when calculating his pension.

The city typically doesn’t consider holiday pay when calculating pension payments for non-union administrators, such as the police chief, according to City Manager Tim Coon.

However, Cossette, prior to becoming an administrator, was a member of the Meriden Police Union for many years.

During that period, the police union’s labor agreement stipulated that holiday pay union members accrue would be added to their other earnings when calculating their pension.

The contracts, however, did not specify what should happen if a union member leaves the bargaining union for a management position.

After the city did not consider Cossette’s holiday pay as a union member in his pension, approved by the Pension Board in August, he brought it to the city’s attention and said he planned to take legal action if the calculation wasn’t revised. 

“The city had both accounting individuals and legal individuals look at all of the relevant documents and they determined it was in the city’s best interest to approve (the settlement) because the language, as it was written, lacks specificity,” City Council Majority Leader David Lowell said Monday.

On Monday, the council voted 10-0 to approve the settlement, with Republican Dan Brunet and Democrat Bruce Fontanella absent. The council passed the settlement without any discussion beyond explanations of background information from Lowell and the city manager.

Potential legal costs

Coon said he recommended the council approve the $47,000 settlement to avoid legal costs that could potentially exceed that amount.  

It’s not uncommon for retirees to sue the city over a pension calculation dispute, and in some cases, legal costs can mount for the city, Coon said.

He noted two past pension calculation cases filed against Meriden have gone all the way to the Connecticut Supreme Court, “which means it’s gone through three levels of litigation and the expenses associated with it.”

Cossette couldn’t be reached for comment. He is on vacation this week, according to Coon. 

The $47,000 will come from the city’s pension fund, and not the general fund budget, officials said. The city calculated the settlement figure by factoring Cossette’s earnings and his mortality.

Typically pension payments based on accrued holiday pay, called “holiday emoluments,” could be paid to retirees in monthly installments, however, the city is giving Cossette his payment in one lump sum as part of the settlement.

Cossette, 58, is continuing on as police chief until July 1 under an agreement the City Council approved last year. The agreement allows Cossette to continue earning his salary of $134,000 while simultaneously receiving a monthly pension of about $8,825, or $105,900 annually, according to the city's finance department.
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