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Watertown Trust schedules special meeting on pension issue

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The Watertown Local Development Corp. now will have just five short weeks to make sure its two employees have a retirement package and health benefits.

That’s because an Aug. 1 deadline looms as a result of the passage of a long-awaited pension restoration bill Thursday in the Legislature for those workers and 10 others associated with the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency.

On Thursday morning, the development corporation, also known as the Watertown Trust, discussed the fallout from the dispute over the legal status of its two employees. Board members took up the discussion a few hours before the state Senate unanimously passed the legislation in the afternoon.

And now it will have to act fast because the state employees’ pension credits will end Aug. 1, not at the end of the year as anticipated.

“It’s all accelerated because of the Aug. 1 deadline,” said Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham, adding that the trust’s work as the city’s economic development arm must continue as it has for the past 20 years.

Mr. Graham, who also serves as the trust’s chairman, plans to appoint Erika F. Flint, Jeffrey T. Fallon and Mark S. Bellinger to a three-member committee to look at what needs to be done for the two employees.

While they have a some time to get the two employees enrolled in another retirement program, the trust board members said Thursday that they need to act quickly to get the employees into a new health benefits plan and put together a new payroll system.

To deal with the issues, the trust scheduled an executive session at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday with Richard L. Smith, the Syracuse attorney it hired to represent the corporation after state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli revoked the workers’ pensions in February.

The 12 employees were put in financial limbo when the comptroller concluded they should not have received pension credits in the years they had worked for JCIDA sub-agencies. The dispute revolved around whether the employees worked directly for JCIDA or for nonprofit organizations called local development corporations.

The 10 other employees work for the Jefferson County Agricultural Development Corp., Jefferson County Job Development Corp., Carthage Industrial Development Corp. and Watertown Industrial Center Local Development Corp.

Those other LDCs will have to deal with the same retirement, health benefits and payroll issues and will schedule special meetings soon, said Donald C. Alexander, executive director of JCJDC and JCIDA.

“Many details still have to be worked out in the next four weeks,” he said.

All 12 employees will be able to collect on what they have put into their state retirement benefits.

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