Lorain City Auditor Ron Mantini said the IRS brought up the issue as part of an audit of the 2011 tax year.
That audit also saw federal officials point out that the city hadn’t been sending out the proper tax forms to some vendors, a mistake that potentially could have cost the city $776,000.
The city has been steadily working to cut down that amount — officials said they had trimmed it to roughly $210,000 in October — but Mantini said a final figure has yet to be determined. He said the city will likely learn its final bill from the IRS in February.
Mantini said the issue with the Police Department is that the workers were being paid as if they were contract workers, when they were operating as if they were city employees.
A contract worker, he said, would be someone like an electrician who is hired to deal with a specific task. But the Police Department workers were performing work on a regular basis, and had assigned desks and other similarities to regular city employees.
“They’re doing the same job as an employee is doing, and they should be on the payroll,” Mantini said.
The proper classification for such workers, he said, would be part-time intermittent employees.
He said several years ago the city began using retired officers to conduct background checks on possible new hires in the Police Department. Before that, he said, the background checks were performed by regular police officers, who had to take time off from their law enforcement duties to conduct the time-consuming checks.
“For them to spend the time to do it in-house was taking too long,” Mantini said.
According to city records, retired Lorain Police Lt. Jim Rohner was paid a total of $14,930 to do background checks in 2012 and 2013. Rich Resendez, a former Lorain police officer who later worked for Lorain County Sheriff Phil Stammitti, was paid $3,374 in the same timeframe, while retired Lorain police Detective Dennis Moskal was paid $930 for similar work in 2013.
Police Chief Cel Rivera said it’s possible that retired police officers could be brought in on a part-time basis to perform other tasks such as working in the records room or to take reports in the Police Department lobby. That would free up sworn police officers to focus more on investigating and preventing crimes, he said.
“We’re looking for ways to use retired people,” Rivera said.
The move has the backing of the Lorain police union, as does a second position that will allow the Police Department to bring in individuals with specialized skills to assist in investigations where their expertise might be needed, Rivera said.
That could include experts in forensic accounting, cyber crime, handwriting analysis or white-collar cases, according to paperwork prepared for City Council that explains what the criminal investigator position would do.
The position would report directly to Rivera, the paperwork said.
Rivera said he’s not sure whether or not retired FBI Agent and Vermilion Police Officer Dennis Terry, who has spent the past few years investigating public corruption in Lorain, would be among those who would be counted as a criminal investigator if the position is formally created.
Terry is being loaned out to Lorain by Vermilion police and is being paid through Lorain’s Law Enforcement Trust Fund, an account that is often used to fund confidential investigations.
Terry’s work led in part to state charges against former Lorain Community Development Director Sandy Prudoff and attorney Anthony Calabrese III, both of whom are already serving time on federal corruption charges.
Calabrese’s former law firm, Vorys, Sater, Seymour & Pease, agreed to pay Lorain $3 million late last year as part of a settlement over allegations of misconduct on Calabrese’s part.
Rivera said he isn’t sure how long Terry will even be working for Lorain since “he’s wrapping up” the corruption probe.
Lorain Law Director Pat Riley said Monday that he has completed his legal review of the new positions under consideration and offered only a few minor changes, including limiting the jobs to no more than 1,000 hours per year. The resolution creating the jobs is pending before a City Council committee.