SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga Springs City Council on Wednesday approved agreements with the seven labor unions representing city employees that will postpone their negotiated 2021 raises because of the city’s dire financial condition.
The agreements, which are expected to save the city $1 million in 2021, were approved 4-1, with Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan voting against each of the agreements.
Madigan said the one-year concession of the scheduled 2-percent raises didn’t go far enough in cutting employee costs, and employee pay really needs to be frozen into mid-2022. “Given the uncertainty we are facing, I don’t think as finance commissioner I can agree to this. I represent the taxpayers,” she said. “This is kicking the can down the road,” she said.
The agreements were approved at a special City Council meeting held Wednesday afternoon virtually on Zoom. During the meeting, Madigan and Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco got into a heated argument about budget-cutting measures that prompted Mayor Meg Kelly to mute both their microphones.
With the city’s finances, like those of communities across the country, hard-hit by the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the union members agreed not to take their scheduled 2 percent wage increases in 2021, along with any longevity increases employees might be entitled to receive.
The union concessions are helping to prevent a need for what might have been dozens of layoffs affecting police, fire and public works employees.
The city’s 2021 budget totals $46.2 million, and included a 6 percent property tax increase, with anticipation that city employees would give wage concessions.
The 2 percent increases could be restored if the city receives new federal or state financial assistance during the year, but if there is no outside aid from federal or state governments and the economy remains disrupted, Madigan has said there could be devastating budget consequences in 2022.
Under each of the agreements, the pay hikes scheduled to start on Jan. 1 would be postponed until Dec. 31, 2021, and the 2022 pay increases would go forward as negotiated — so workers would, in effect, see no increase in 2021, but a 4 percent increase in 2022.
City Attorney Vincent DeLeonardis said the concessions will save the city about $1 million in 2021, but the 2022 increase prompted one audience member, Saratoga County Libertarian Party Chairman Rob Arrigo, to say, “That’s not a fair deal for the working people of this community.”
DeLeonardis defended the unions, each of whose membership has already ratified the agreements.
“A suggestion that unions have somehow acted in bad faith is misguided and untrue,” DeLeonardis said. “There are sacrifices being made by all.”
As part of each of the new agreements, each existing contract also will be extended for an additional two years, with employees receiving additional 2 percent increases in each year. Those contracts have various expiration dates between the ends of 2021 and 2024.
The police lieutenants’ union current contract expires on Dec. 31, and that union has reached an agreement in wages that will run from Jan. 1 until Dec. 31, 2025.
City officials originally believed dozens of layoffs were going to be necessary to make up for the drastic losses in sales tax and other revenue to the city during 2020.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic disruption has caused an unprecedented negative impact on the finances of businesses and public entities, including the city of Saratoga Springs,” the resolutions state. “The city is confronting significant budgetary shortfalls that may impact its ability to provide essential services if immediate cost-saving measures are not implemented.”
Scirocco, whose department maintains city streets and utilities, said his goal in agreeing to the concessions is to avoid layoffs. “We just had three feet of snow. The last thing we want to do is lay off anybody,” he said.
The agreements are with the Civil Service Employees Association units representing City Hall and Department of Public Works employees, and the unions representing firefighters, Fire Department administrators, police officers, police administrators and police lieutenants. A separate agreement covers deputy commissioners and other non-unionized, full-time employees.