Pay raises still an issue heading into Schenectady budget vote

Council members are slated to vote on the budget Friday
Schenectady City Hall is pictured.
Schenectady City Hall is pictured.

SCHENECTADY — Proposed pay raises are still a point of contention for some City Council members heading into Friday’s vote on the 2019 proposed budget.

Negotiations regarding Mayor Gary McCarthy’s $86.8 million budget are still going on as council members plan to vote on it at 5:30 p.m. in City Hal. The proposed budget does include a 0.53 percent property tax cut, but it also features raises for several city employees, many of them in management positions.

Those raises include a $41,000 raise for Public Safety Commissioner Michael Eidens, a more than $8,000 raise for city Commissioner of General Services Paul LaFond and a more than $7,000 raise for city Finance Commissioner Anthony Ferrari.

City Council President Ed Kosiur said there are some council members who don’t want to see salaries increased by any more than 4 percent.

“That’s where we’re stuck at right now,” Kosiur said.

Kosiur said he proposed raises be capped at 5 percent. He also said he was fine with slightly reducing the proposed raise for Eidens, but declined to say by how much.

Kosiur said he believes Eidens deserves the pay raise because he’s added the duty of overseeing the Buildings Department, which includes code enforcement. He also oversees the Police and Fire departments.

“I think the commissioner has done a very good job for us,” Kosiur said.

Councilman John Mootooveren declined to detail what his thoughts were on the budget because he said the budget is still “a work in progress.”

“I think we’re going to make sure we have a budget that is beneficial to city employees, the city administration and the taxpayers,” Mootooveren said.

Independent Councilman Vince Riggi said he would not vote for a budget that includes non-contractual raises more than 2 percent. It’s the largest sticking point for him, Riggi said.

“We have rank and file employees that have to scrap and fight for 2 percent [raises],” Riggi said. “I don’t think it’s fair it works that way.”

City Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo said she has several issues with the budget that would force her to vote against it. But the biggest issue she has are the raises.

The proposed budget includes more than $160,000 in non-contractual raises, Perazzo said. She has proposed capping all raises at 4 percent, which she said could save the city more than $120,000. She also cited how hard other city employees had to fight for their 2-percent raises.

Perazzo said she can’t justify giving Eidens a $41,000 raise. She also opposes increasing the salary of the administrative assistant to the mayor from $27,322 to $52,000. That position is currently vacant.

“I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I voted for such a thing,” Perazzo said.

McCarthy said some council members will vote against the budget no matter what. “But I will live within the budget the City Council gives me,” he said.

There are a few other issues Perazzo said she has with the budget. This included the $1 million included in the capital budget for the sidewalk improvement program. It’s a program that is proposed to be paid back by residents through a special tax assessment, according to Finance Commissioner Ferrari.

Perazzo said it’s a program “that has yet to be fleshed out” and could force some residents who may not even want to be involved in the program to pay for it.

Kosiur, though, argued its’ a program that needs to be started, and the $1 million could be used to get it off the ground.

“It’s something we’ve been talking about for well over 10 years,” Kosiur said. “It’s about time we start putting money into the project.”

Kosiur admitted that a lot of the details of the program have yet to be figured out. This includes which streets would be included or what percentage of property owners need to be on board for a section of sidewalk to be repaired.

Still, he said it’s a program that needs to be funded.

“We can’t keep talking the talk,” Kosiur said. “We have to get it done.”

This year’s budget process has been a little different from previous years, both Riggi and Perazzo said. While there were public hearings, informational town hall sessions and meetings with department heads about the budget, there were no work sessions where the council went over what changes they were going to make in the budget.

“I just don’t see those in the schedule this year,” said Perazzo, who has criticized how the 2018 budget was approved. “I understand the interest in making the process as efficient as possible, but this is also not something to be rushed.”

Kosiur admitted the only public discussion that will occur on the budget between council members will be on Friday. But he said Councilman John Polimeni, chairman of the city Finance Committee, had contacted council members to get their thoughts on the budget.

“There will be a good, open conversation,” Kosiur said.

Riggi said he’s not sure if the way the budget process went this year was the right way to do it. But he also said it wasn’t his call to make.

“[Polimeni] is the finance chair, he can run it the way he wants, I guess,” Riggi said.

Polimeni did not return a request for comment on the proposed budget.

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