WEST WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — West Warwick has one of most depleted pension funds in Rhode Island, and now a group of retirees is frustrated by what they claim are years of overpayments to some of their former coworkers.
The dispute is rooted in a legal battle that started in 2011 when 47 retired police officers and firefighters received some bad news as the pension crisis boiled over across the state.
Records indicate their disability pensions were cut by about $400 each a month.
According to Kevin O’Connell, the chairman of the West Warwick Police and Fire Disability Association, all but six of the 47 went to court to fight the cuts.
“They’re hurting every day,” O’Connell said, referring to the injuries that ended their careers. “And for the town to treat these guys like this?”
Three years and $36,000 in legal fees later, there was a partial victory outlined in a Superior Court Memorandum of Understanding. The court-approved settlement put about $200 a month back into their monthly checks.
Then, the dispute.
After years of questions from O’Connell, Pension Board President Albert Heroux confirmed a rumor during a meeting earlier this year. The retirees who opted out of the legal fight and did not pay the attorney are also receiving the additional money.
“How did these individuals get money that they weren’t entitled to?” O’Connell asked. “No one seems to know, or someone knows and they just don’t want to tell us.”
O’Connell and the Police and Fire Disability Association want the town to force their former coworkers to pay back what could add up to about $15,000 each, and they want the extra money from the settlement to stop in their monthly checks.
“The board needs to do this,” O’Connell added. “You don’t volunteer for a board and not do your job.”
O’Connell acknowledged it is difficult to make this demand when it would impact former coworkers.
“I struggle with it every day. But in the end, what’s right is right,” O’Connell said. “If you know you’re getting something extra, you have a duty to say, ‘Hey, there’s a problem. I’m getting extra money in my pension.'”
Heroux said he was advised by Town Solicitor Timothy Williamson not to comment on the dispute.
Williamson has not responded yet to requests for comment.