Oct. 13--North Haledon's mayor and four council members owe the borough more than $560,000 in unreimbursed health insurance premiums over the past decade, a resident claims in a lawsuit filed in state court.
In the suit, John Bleeker says a 1992 municipal ordinance states that "any elected official who participates in an employer group insurance contract shall reimburse the borough for the costs which are incurred by his or her participation." Coverage can be extended to include dependants, according to the suit.
Based on information Bleeker says he obtained through public records requests, Mayor Randy George, as well as council members Raymond Melone, Donna Puglisi, Rocco Luisi and Elaine Vuoncino received a total of just over $560,000 in health insurance coverage for which the borough has never been repaid.
Although elected officials had to repay the borough for the cost of their health insurance coverage, the group rates were lower than rates for individuals.
The borough is also named as a defendant in the suit, filed Oct. 3 in state Superior Court in Paterson, because it did not enforce its own ordinance.
George, reached by phone late Friday, said Bleeker is a "disgruntled former borough fireman whose firehouse was closed down for a lack of manpower."
George said that while there is an ordinance requiring reimbursement, state Division of Local Government Services directives prevail -- and those directives allow for elected officials' health coverage to be paid for the time period addressed in Bleeker's suit.
The mayor added that recent state legislation has required municipal elected officials to go back to reimbursing their communities for coverage, by that those on the rolls prior to the law's passage are grandfathered in and do not have to pay.
"He's been given all this information. Of course, he still says all this because he has to make the situation worse than what it is," George said. "The issue here is, when you're given the facts and you refuse to accept them, then we have to move on."
Attorneys for Bleeker could not be reached for comment.
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