Lee Zurik Investigation: Jefferson Parish asks AG, “Is this legal?”

Jefferson Parish President John Young has asked the state attorney general whether it's legal for the parish to pay retirement contributions for some employees.

This follows a FOX 8 investigation from May that questioned whether the parish could do it. Our story looked at about 300 long-time parish employees who get a substantial extra benefit.

April 26, 1986 is a significant date in Jefferson Parish. For employees hired before that date, the parish pays their full retirement contribution. The parish picks up the tab on a 9.5-cent contribution. For an employee making $100,000 a year, the parish pays an additional $9,500.

It costs the parish $3 million a year. But since these employees have been going off the payroll every year, it used to cost much more.

When we asked Jefferson Parish Chief Administrative Officer Chris Cox in May whether it's legal for the parish to pay the entire retirement contribution for those employees hired before April 26, 1986, He told us, "I certainly hope so. I don't think we have legal issues there."

After that May interview, the parish reviewed the law and decided to get an opinion from the attorney general.

In Young's request, he cites a letter we received from the administrator at the state retirement board. Dainna Tully wrote to us that she thought what the parish was doing was illegal. She writes, "That state law says 'each member or employee shall contribute an amount equal to a percentage of his earnings from each and every payment of earnings.'".

Tully goes on to write, "The statutes cited are not permissive" -- meaning it's not optional. She adds, "They clearly state that the employee is to contribute to the retirement system a set percentage of pay."

Young said the policy was implemented in the 80's to provide pay raises to employees. At that time, analysis was done to see what was most cost-beneficial to the parish and to the employees. And Young says the pension plan raise met both criteria.

Now the attorney general will tell the parish whether the plan, in place for almost 30 years, is legal.