An effort to create a more transparent budget led to widespread confusion in the Schenectady Police Department.
The 2012 budget appeared to show that the four assistant chiefs were each getting a $20,000 to $25,000 raise. The reality? $5,000 raises.
It turns out the chiefs were getting $19,000 or more in perks each year, above and beyond their normal salary. Through negotiations this year, the City Council eliminated all of the perks, but not the money. It was rolled into each chief’s 2012 salary.
When questioned, Director of Administration John Paolino provided the salary and perks for Assistant Police Chief Michael Seber to illustrate the changes.
Schenectady’s 2011 budget showed that Seber was getting paid $100,246. But after perks, he was paid a total of $119,908. The extra money included a $7,267 payment for continuing to work (called a longevity payment) and $5,160 for working his regular schedule even when it fell on a holiday.
For 2012, each chief got a 4 percent raise, just as the officers got in their contract.
Seber’s new salary will be $125,054 — an apparent $25,000 raise. But after taking perks into account, his actual raise is $5,000.
Acting Mayor Gary McCarthy said the new budget is more transparent because it reflects the true cost of the chiefs, rather than hiding their perks in line items that apply to dozens of officers.
For example, one of the department’s longevity budget lines had $199,000 in it this year. How much of that went to the chief? From the budget alone, it was impossible to tell.
“We said enough of this nonsense, it creates confusion,” Paolino said.
But some rank-and-file officers looked at the new budget and saw a huge pay raise for their leaders, while they got only their agreed-upon 4 percent raise. They cried foul.
There was no way for them to know that Paolino had negotiated a new contract behind the scenes in which the chiefs agreed to give up most of their perks.
Chiefs will still get whatever raise the officers’ union negotiates, and those who have been on the force fewer than 20 years will get small “step” increase every few years. For those who have worked 15 to 18 years on the force, there’s a $2,000 raise for staying one more year. The next — and last — increase comes at the 21st year, when they get a $3,000 raise.
While those increases are similar to a longevity payment, the difference is that Seber, for example, got a $7,267 payment every year for staying on the job. Now, he won’t get anything, because he’s been on the force for more than 21 years. Three of the four chiefs are in that position.
Assistant Chief Brian Kilcullen, a 17-year veteran who also got a longevity payment every year, will get only $5,000 in total over the next four years.
Paolino argued that the new salary will also save the city money in the long run. At most, the city will have to pay chiefs for six weeks of unused vacation time when they retire, instead of the current maximum of 10 weeks.
The chiefs also won’t be allowed to save up their sick time anymore. Previously, they could save up as much sick time as they wanted and get a payout of 75 percent of their saved days.
The city also will no longer pay the chiefs 30 days of overtime in their final year before retirement. That payment was traditionally used to increase their annual pension by increasing their total salary. It was called into question last year because the chiefs are not eligible for overtime pay at any other time in their administrative career.
“There’s a lot of givebacks,” Paolino said. “It’s costing us less.”
He said the growing amount of saved sick days, and the ever-increasing longevity payments, would have continued to hurt the city’s bottom line whenever a chief retired.
“This would have kept magnifying,” Paolino said.
The changes won’t affect pensions.
Longevity, holiday pay and similar perks count toward pensions, as does salary, so moving the payments from one line to another does not change the amount the officer will receive when he retires, according to the state Comptroller’s Office. Vacation and sick time buyouts aren’t used to calculate the officer’s pension, so reducing those will not reduce the officer’s pension.
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