The Saratoga Springs City Council will vote on a new contract with the city’s Police Benevolent Association tonight, nearly three years after the previous contract expired and six months after a divided council rejected a proposed settlement.
The new agreement, which covers five years retroactive to 2013, was reached Oct. 8. That’s when a state-appointed mediator had three of the five council members sign a memorandum of agreement — a move that has the two council members not involved in the negotiating session crying foul.
“This is unprecedented under our form of government. … The fate of the MOA was sealed last Thursday [Oct. 8] not at an open public City Council meeting but behind closed doors by the proverbial three men in a room,” Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan said last week.
Neither Madigan nor Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco — two of those who voted against the April settlement proposal — was included in the session. “It is the most untransparent way you could do business,” Scirocco said.
Mayor Joanne Yepsen, whose office oversees city contract negotiations, said the signatures were sought by the mediator, who was apparently concerned about the council’s 3-2 rejection of the proposed contract in April. The council majority expressed concerns about cost and other issues. “He made it very clear that he did not want it going back to the council until he knew a majority supported it, and so he asked for three signatures,” Yepsen explained during a budget workshop last Wednesday. “It’s not unusual.”
Madigan said she was unaware that the mediation to settle the contract was taking place, and as finance commissioner — in charge of the city budget — should have been involved.
Last Wednesday, Madigan shared her concerns about the contract settlement’s impact on the 2016 budget. “The money is not there. I will be clear about that,” she said. On Monday, she said a plan for how the costs will be covered will be presented at tonight’s City Council meeting. The costs are estimated at about $1.5 million, including retroactive payments to officers for 2013-2015.
Republican Ken Ivins, who is running against Madigan on Nov. 3, criticized her for saying the deal could cause either across-the-board cuts or a tax increase, though she later backed away from those statements. “She knew that this was in the works and yet did not factor it into the comprehensive budget,” he said Monday.
The agreement calls for union members — the city’s police officers, sergeants and investigators — to receive 11.5 percent in raises over a five-year span, 2013-2017. Other contract details are not yet known.
Yepsen said failure to mediate could have led to binding arbitration, in which police might have received larger wage increases.
After the proposed contract deal Yepsen’s office negotiated in April was rejected, the mayor said she included Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen in the process when mediation started. They both signed the memorandum of agreement. The third signature came from Accounts Commissioner John Franck, who also supported the April proposal. He said he signed only after being assured by both the mediator and the city’s labor attorney that what he was doing was proper.
While Yepsen said the new PBA contract is similar to the proposed settlement the council rejected in April, both Mathiesen and Franck said they believed it is a better deal for the city.
If the contract is approved during tonight’s meeting, city firefighters will be the only one of seven employee unions without an agreement. Yepsen said she believes that contract is close to being resolved.
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