Warwick mayor and former city councilman at odds over payout
WARWICK, R.I. (WLNE) — A former Warwick city councilman is at odds with the mayor over allegedly receiving medical coverage from the city that he wasn’t entitled to.
Mayor Frank Picozzi said that any councilman elected before Feb. 19, 2009, that served three or more two-year terms can receive post-retirement medical benefits at 60-years-old.
Although former City Councilman Steven Merolla served the term required for post-retirement medical benefits, Picozzi said he applied for them four years before he was eligible.
“Mr. Merolla was a councilman before I took office,” Picozzi said. “His ineligibility surfaced recently when another former councilman applied for his post-retirement benefits and it was discovered that the ordinance was incorrectly applied in Mr. Merolla’s case.”
Picozzi said once he learned this, he stopped Merolla’s coverage. Picozzi added that he is seeking to get full restitution for the cost to the city for that coverage, which is $43,984.32.
Merolla said he believes that he should not have to pay back restitutions. Merolla said it was the mayor’s administration that made the mistake.
He served in office from January 1999 to January 2021. In February 2021, he applied for post-retirement medical benefits, and the mayor’s administration approved his request.
According to Merolla, Picozzi’s staff told Merolla that he was “grandfathered in” to receive these benefits at age 55. He explained that because of this, he decided to retire early with half of his pension and apply for the healthcare that the staff allegedly said he was entitled to.
Merolla said he never went back to research ordinance changes because he “relied on the organization to do their job.”
The former councilman explained to ABC 6 News that all employees get healthcare at age 55. However, there’s an exception to the rule that states elected employees won’t receive post-retirement medical benefits until age 60.
The former councilman told ABC 6 he is especially concerned because his family is currently dealing with significant health issues.
Picozzi asked that the Personnel Department do an audit of all pensions and benefit coverage from Feb 19, 2009 to 2023. No additional mistakes were found.