Before former Luther Fire Chief Jason Miller left the Town of Luther in mid-July, town leaders worked with attorneys, accountants and advisors to update a promissory note involving funds Miller owes the Town.
The issue has been ongoing, but The Luther Register had not covered it. For one thing, it was a personnel matter, and even though it dealt with public funds, most of the discussion about it was held in executive session. Fair enough, there's plenty of other things to cover. And for another thing, the issue is complicated. But we're doing an update now, as the issue continues to smolder on social media even after Miller is now the fire chief in Marlow. Some are wondering what the deal was; if Town funds were recovered and if Miller got a fair deal.
Here's some of the breakdown:
When Miller became the Town's first paid fire official, the Town and Miller were supposed to pay into the state firefighters pension fund, with the Town paying 14% and Miller 9%. It wasn't done for the first several years of his six-year stint as fire chief.
During the same period in 2014, former Town Clerk and Office Manager Donita Roby was charged with embezzling money from the town. According to Town officials piecing the past together, Roby allegedly skimmed payroll taxes of other employees for herself, further muddying the pension issue with the Town's new fire chief.
According to former Mayor Lea Ann Jackson, accountant Todd Young, CPA, was hired "to determine where things stood with multiple employment tax issues and help the town return to good standing.The focus at the time was on the issues resulting from the previous clerk's embezzlement, part of which was accomplished by not remitting payroll taxes."
Regarding Miller's pension issue, "it was unclear whether the pension would simply accept contributions from that point forward or whether it would require payment of contributions per previous payroll. Only when the Town was told that all past contributions were due and payable was it eligible to file for recovery of the previously paid Social Security amounts," said Jackson who served on the board from 2015-2016.
The Town paid the pension bill – the Town's portion and Miller's, but because it was public money, could not forgive Miller's portion and began working with him for remittance. At the time, it was thought that he owed about $12,000 back to the Town for his part of his retirement back payment; and he was paying $50 per pay period. Upon Miller's abrupt resignation this summer, current Mayor Jenni White said she went to work on behalf of the Town and Miller to update the issue. Also, Miller's wife said she wanted to ensure the contract was re-signed and took to Facebook sharing her perspective.
Jackson said any allegations of the Town working to receive the funds and the note not be credited are completely false. "It was never my understanding or intention that Jason's share of Social Security refund be paid to the Town without his knowledge or that the funds, if paid to the Town, would not be applied to the outstanding balance. At the time that I left the Board, none of the Social Security funds had been returned. To this day, it was my belief that none had been received but I also know that they could have been received and I would have no reason to know. At the time I left, the note between Jason and LPWA/Town had not been executed," said Jackson.
White said it took a lot of research to get up to speed on the matter, and countless hours in conversation with all parties involved. She said she wanted to be a good steward of the Town's trust and be fair to Miller in recognition of his service. "I went to a great deal of difficulty and time to present him with an accurate promissory note. The note he signed upon leaving reflected an amount of (edited from earlier story, apology for error) $6,024," she said. That amount was far less than the original note, and accounted for the possibility of getting an IRS refund for the overpaid FICA, as well as money Miller had already paid the Town and some unpaid sick and vacation leave.
As yet, the US government has not refunded the approximate $5,600 that ended up being erroneously paid to Social Security, but Mr. Young is preparing the request.
Jason Miller signed the updated promissory note just before 5pm on his last day with the Town and both Miller and members of the Town Board said they were satisfied with the agreement.
The Luther Fire Department is now under the leadership of Chief John Brown, a volunteer. At last week's Special Board meeting, the board approved a resolution to re-allocate Miller's salary to the maintenance and operations budget line to address faulty and aging equipment at LFD. White said although she is not a fan of big government, she recognizes that the Town has operated for so long without adequately funding itself, particularly in water issues and public safety, that funding issues must be addressed, particularly when it comes to the LFD's ISO ratings that affects homeowner's insurance rates. Incidentally, this ISO rating was a core issue to Chief Miller who tried to bring it to the attention of past town leaders.
Roby was convicted of nine embezzlement related counts against the Town amounting to $48,000. In exchange for no prison time, Roby accepted a sentence in January 2016 to send the Town $200 a month until it's repaid. However, the Town has not been receiving those payments from Roby or the court, according to Town officials.