Miami Twp. officials are urging Trustee Charlie Lewis, and his wife, the township’s former fiscal officer, to come up with more than $11,000 to settle a dispute about pension payments, dating back to 2004.
Last year, the Ohio Auditor of State advised township elected officials around Ohio that payments - that had been made from township funds toward the elected officials’ pensions since 2004 were illegal and needed to repaid.
Township officials in Butler Twp., Montgomery County; Litchfield Twp., Medina County; and Lanier Twp., Preble County; also were directed to repay their townships.
“If payment is not received during the current audit, a finding for recovery will be issued and the case would be referred for collection and completion to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office,” township Finance Director Harry Steger said in separate July 10 letters to Charlie and Judy Lewis.
The Lewises and their lawyer say they intend to pay what is owed, once their questions have been answered and a suitable payment plan can be worked out.
“Once we get it down to the exact right figure, we’ll go forward from there,” Charlie Lewis said.
Meanwhile the Lewises want township to stop sending them letters — which they describe as harassment — regarding the issue.
“They don’t want to be harassed. They are law-abiding citizens,” said Leah Sellers, a lawyer the Lewises hired in the dispute.
Some officials in other townships have paid back the full amounts, while others began payment plans set up to spread out the costs.
The Lewises said they were making $100 a month payments when they received the letters from Steger and Fiscal Officer Ann Culp, calling for them to pay $11,691.76 by July 17. On July 22, township sent the Lewises another letter indicating they understood Sellers was working with state auditors on the issue.
Culp said the July 10 letters were sent to the Lewises and former Trustee Dave Coffey after all the affected past and present elected officials were invited to a meeting where state auditors laid out the issue and potential repercussions. “Unfortunately the Lewises weren’t able to attend that,” said Culp, who defeated Judy Lewis in the 2011 election.
Coffey, along with Trustees Deborah Preston and Mike Nolan, already have paid back the amounts calculated by the state, Culp said.
Culp said the letter was her latest attempt to bring the affected officials up to speed before the state levies penalties and interest against anyone still owing the money.
“There is no harassment,” Culp said. “They can pay it or not pay it. It’s their choice.”
While seeking payments dating back to 2009, the state is “forgiving” the payments in earlier years, Culp said.
Before paying, Sellers said the Lewises want to ensure the payments are entirely warranted, determine exactly how much they owe and work on a payment plan.
A spokesman for the Ohio Auditor of State declined to comment while auditors continue to work on the township’s current audit.