City of Plattsburgh retirees have a legitimate beef with Clinton County and should get their money.
The county is not to blame for this unsettling situation. Nevertheless, it should be remedied in favor of the retirees.
The story unfolded in 2016, when then-City of Plattsburgh Mayor James Calnon moved to switch the city's retired employees' health-insurance plans.
Calnon was looking to save money for the city and offered them a plan from Humana that he felt was just as good as the retirees' existing plan but less expensive.
The retirees balked strongly, saying the Humana plan was nowhere near as good as their existing plan. They wanted no part of the switch.
They formed the City Retirees Association and took legal action against the city.
As part of the lawsuit, the retirees were required by the courts to put up what is known as an "undertaking," which is a pot of money to be set aside and given to the city should it prevail in the suit.
The undertaking was not small change. The court required more than $207,000, which the 140 or so retirees ponied up from their own pockets.
As part of the legal course of action, the court ordered the undertaking to be held by the Clinton County Treasurer's Office, a standard procedure.
Eventually, the retirees settled with the city and new Mayor Colin Read.
As a result, the undertaking was ordered to be given back to the retirees.
When Retiree Association President Gary Brandstetter went to get the check, he was surprised to find the total was minus a little more than $4,000.
The cost was due to a 2-percent charge from the county for basically receiving the check, holding the money for more than a year and then distributing it back to the retirees.
The retirees were outraged over such a charge for what appeared to be minimal service.
But the problem in this situation is that the 2-percent fee is state law.
County Treasurer Kimberly Davis explained that as much as the county wants to return the $4,000 to the retirees, it must follow the law and collect the fee unless a judge specifically rules otherwise.
In this case, Judge Robert Muller ordered that $207,000 be returned but didn't instruct the county not to withhold the fee.
The county maintains that unless specifically ordered to return the fee, which did not happen in this case, the 2-percent fee has to stand.
County Legislator Mark Dame (R-Area 8, City and Town of Plattsburgh), who has made no secret of his distaste for various state fees and rules over the years, says the retirees are being robbed and the county should make amends.
He wants the 10 legislators to vote on returning the $4,000 to the retirees regardless of the interpretation of the rules.
Legislature Chairman Harry McManus (D-Area 1, Champlain) is urging caution, concerned that a vote by the legislature could put the county on the wrong end of the law.
He wants the matter researched more, which the county will do.
While Dame might be a bit off course procedure-wise, his sentiments are on target.
A $4,000 fee for doing little more than holding a check for a year or so is definitely egregious.
It's a bit ironic to see Dame and Brandstetter on the same side of an argument in 2019, when the two fought tooth and nail in the early 1990s when Dame was a city councilor and Brandstetter the head of the city firefighters union.
Regardless of past differences, the two now make a valid case that the city retirees deserve to get all of their money back.
We hope the county can find a way to make this right for the retirees and still stay on the right side of the law.