The question of equal pay between elected Town of Ontario Justices Paul Sucher and Reginald Higgins is not in question. Both men receive the same salary of $18,249 annually.
Sucher, a retired State Trooper, receives health benefits in his retirement package from New York State. Higgins receives his health benefits from the Town of Ontario.
That is what is at the crux of a lawsuit brought by Sucher, who served papers on not only the current Town Supervisor, John Smith and current Board members at last Tuesday’s board meeting, but former Town Supervisor Bob Kelsch and former board members as well.
According to the suit, Sucher feels that salary, as defined by law, is compensation for services and should include monies spent on health and other non-salaried benefits. He feels he should receive an additional $14,127.60 annually, the amount Higgins will receive in health coverage costs. He is asking to be reimbursed a total of $83,409.75 for the years he has been a town justice since his election in 2008.
Town Attorney Alan Knauf, in a memorandum in April of 2013 addressed Sucher’s requests by citing various legal decisions. He wrote that insurance benefits are not considered “salary” according to town law. According to the New York State Comptroller, “salary” is defined to “mean simply the fixed cash consideration periodically paid, or the per hour, per diem or per week remuneration to which an officer or employee is entitled,” and not “fringe benefits.” Accordingly, the State Comptroller has opined that hospitalization insurance premiums and other fringe benefits are not normally considered as a part of an officer or employee’s annual compensation or salary.
Sucher contends that both he and Higgins perform essentially the same job and devote approximately the same amount of time to their elected positions and that while the paychecks are equal, their compensation is not.
Town officials could not comment on the lawsuit, except to say it was in the hands of their attorney. Sucher’s attorney, Charles Steinman, Esq. of Rochester, could not be reached prior to press time.