Schenectady County

Schenectady council may change time-off policy for new fire chief

The city new fire chief may have to use his sick and vacation time or lose it, rather than saving it

The city new fire chief may have to use his sick and vacation time or lose it, rather than saving it up for a big payday when he retires.

The City Council will vote within a month on whether to change management benefits to the “use it or lose it” model, Finance Commissioner Ismat Alam said. If the benefits change, new Fire Chief Michael Della Rocco will be affected.

The new chief will have a salary of $120,000 — which is just $1,000 more than former Chief Robert Farstad earned. But Farstad’s official salary was $106,000. Longevity, holiday pay and other benefits added up to a total salary of $119,000, Acting Mayor Gary McCarthy said.

But McCarthy said he wanted his new chief to have a flat salary, without add-ons.

“I just want to simplify this, so people know what a position costs, so there aren’t these hidden things,” he said. “I think it’s a kind of game people play.”

Della Rocco’s old position, as assistant chief, will also not be filled. The city will continue to have deputy fire chiefs.

Della Rocco will also get a city car to drive from his home in Guilderland to the city for after-hours fires. Farstad, who lived in the city, also had a car.

“There will be no other compensation package,” McCarthy said.

That implies that he won’t be able to save up his accumulated leave and take it in cash when he retires. Farstad had saved $117,000 in leave for his retirement.

But switching to a “use it or lose it” model is up to the council, and no one has voted yet on what benefits Della Rocco will get or how they will be restricted.

If the council decides to eliminate the retirement buyout of accumulated leave, it won’t be unprecedented. When Mark Chaires was promoted to police chief in 2008, his new contract prohibited him from saving up sick time for a retirement buyout.

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