SARATOGA COUNTY — Saratoga County has hired the E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy law firm of Albany to conduct an independent investigation of how it handled an extended but quickly withdrawn pay increase for county employees deemed “essential” during the pandemic emergency.
County Attorney Stephen Dorsey announced the hiring on Thursday during a meeting of the Board of Supervisors’ Human Resources and Insurance Committee, which is separately looking at how the pay issue should be resolved, since some county workers feel they were promised a pay boost that was later withdrawn after they had begun working. The firm will be paid $350 per hour, with no maximum cost for the investigation.
“It’s my understanding they have begun the investigation and have interviewed employees,” Dorsey said.
The series of moves by county officials in March, as they extended and then withdrew the possibility of a 50-percent pay boost for county employees required to report to work despite the pandemic, has deeply split the county Board of Supervisors. The supervisors at a 3 1/2-hour meeting last week failed to resolve the issue among themselves, but by a narrow majority did vote that there should be an independent outside investigation.
The Human Resources Committee, meanwhile, is tasked with determining what the county policy should be, and whether the extra compensation is due to any employees. On Thursday, committee Chairman Tom Wood, R-Saratoga, named a subcommittee of Waterford Supervisor John E. Lawler, Charlton Supervisor Alan Grattidge and Northumberland Supervisor Bill Peck to come up with a recommendation. Lawler will chair the subcommittee.
At issue is what promises were made on behalf of supervisors to county employees who were deemed “essential” and continue to report to work during the pandemic health crisis — about a quarter of the county workforce, or about 340 people.
At the county Law and Finance Committee meeting on March 11, the committee discussed paying employees still reporting time-and-a-half — or a 50 percent pay raise. At March 17 Board of Supervisors meeting, a special committee was formed to decide week-by-week how long the pay boost would remain in place.
The proposed pay boost was withdrawn for most employees within days after concerns were expressed about the cost to the county, but that information appears not to have been conveyed to rank-and-file employees, or most county supervisors. Some supervisors believe they should receive the additional pay for a two-week period, others for just one week.
Some employees received extra compensation in one paycheck, only to have it withdrawn in the following paycheck, supervisors said.
Initial estimates were the arrangement would have cost the county an extra $325,000 per week if half the workforce were deemed essential. In the end, only about a quarter of the workforce was deemed essential.
Since the issue became public and generated controversy in late March, the largest union, the Civil Service Employees Association, has agreed that its members will accept extra personal time for working during the pandemic, rather than money. The two unions representing employees in the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department have not reached settlements.
Those employees considered essential include the county public Health Department staff, jail corrections officers and sheriff’s road patrol deputies, some Department of Public Works and Department of Social Services workers, and others. Managers are also working, but county officials said in late March that they would not receive additional pay for reporting to work.