Failure to write letter may cost former employee pension payments

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Todd Drysdale, Wyandotte’s director of finance and administrative services, shown here on Aug. 30, told Chet Hunt, the mayor and the City Council on Monday that municipal code requires city employees who leave employment prior to retirement age and defer their pension to submit a request in writing at their eligible retirement age in order to start receiving pension payments.

Sunday Times Newspapers

WYANDOTTE – Officials here are considering a request from a former city employee for four years’ worth of pension benefits that he believes he’s owed.

In a letter dated Oct. 12, Chet Hunt appealed to the mayor and City Council for pension benefits he said he should have received since July 12, 2006, when he turned 55 years old. Now 59, he worked for the city for 11 years and 11 months ending Sept. 17, 1993.

Hunt’s letter came in response to officials’ recent denial of his request for cumulative benefits he believes he is owed. That denial cited city code, which says a deferred retirement allowance begins the month after written application is filed once the former employee has reached the designated retirement age.

Todd Drysdale, director of finance and administrative services, told Hunt the code requires employees who leave city employment prior to retirement age to submit a request in writing at their eligible retirement age — 55 in Hunt’s case — in order to start receiving pension payments.

“It requires a positive request from the person who is due their amounts,” Drysdale said at Monday’s City Council meeting. “It’s always been that way. We’ve never had a retroactive situation.

Hunt said he was never told of the request letter requirement.

“To have something like this happen to us at this stage of life is unbelievable,” Hunt said in his letter.

Drysdale, however, offered a different account on the sequence of events. “I question why Mr. Hunt didn’t call when he was supposed to or when he was eligible to,” he said. “Even more interesting, which isn’t in Mr. Hunt’s letter, is he had originally faxed us some information on (Oct. 4), and right in his handwriting is – and he must have wrote this the day that he left – he wrote, ‘I must write to the city in June of 2006 to start pension.

“He was clearly aware of the rules of the pension system.”

Drysdale said the rest of Hunt’s letter, which mentioned extenuating circumstances, do not allow the city to ignore the rules of the pension ordinance.

“I also don’t want to give the illusion that he was unaware of the rules of the pension ordinance,” Drysdale said. He added that Hunt is eligible to receive payments going forward, but is not eligible for the cumulative funds he could have received from July 12, 2006, his 55th birthday.

Drysdale said that the section of the code in question applies only to a few dozen people who became vested in the city retirement plan at 10 years, but who left, as Hunt did, before attaining the retirement age.

Drysdale added that he believes the ordinance was written when people “didn’t want additional income or pension income (that) may have been taxed a different way.”

“Because it’s only for deferred retirees, it’s only a small portion of people it applies to,” he said. “Normal retirees start collecting immediately after leaving the service of the city.

“Mr. Hunt’s letter tries to indicate that he notified us the day he signed his papers, but if you read the ordinance, it says you need to notify us after reaching normal retirement age. So that is 55.”

Hunt said his military service in Vietnam from 1969 to 1971 exposed him to conditions that led to serious health issues in recent years that required chemotherapy and other treatments. He said his health issues created “considerable disruption” in his life, and that writing a pension request letter to Wyandotte in 2006 was the last thing he would have been thinking of.

He also believes the amount of the request is within reason.

“I have not asked for anything other than my accumulated funds,” Hunt said. “Larger payments for later deferrals, as in Social Security and other pension plans, are typical. I did not ask for any larger payments or any accrued interest earned on my funds.”

Drysdale said that omissions in Hunt’s letter notwithstanding, officials’ response is correct according to existing statutes.

“I sympathize with everything that he has in his letter, but unless you change the ordinance, I’m not so sure that there is anything I can do,” Drysdale said.

The council unanimously voted to defer a decision for three weeks to give him a chance to issue a written communication concerning the ramifications of the city code section on deferred retirement payments.