The Gloversville Common Council on Thursday discussed the requirements and merits of the city’s police contract obligating taxpayers to potentially fund approximately $90,000 worth of a three-year Ph.D. program at the University of Southern California for Police Captain Mike Garavelli.
The topic came up during the council’s third night of budget hearings regarding Mayor Vince DeSantis’ $19.4 million 2022 budget proposal, which would cut the city’s tax rate by 50 cents per thousand dollars of assessed value, bringing it to $19.45 — the lowest inflation-adjusted city tax rate in a quarter of a century.
Over the course of the budget hearings the council has trimmed $96,220 from the mayor’s budget proposal.
The largest share of the city’s budget goes to employee and retired employee health insurance benefits, which account for $6.4 million, about 33.2% of total spending. Each city department’s budget request does not include that portion of the cost of the city’s personnel.
These are the total values of the cuts from each department’s proposed 2022 budget:
- Transit — $2,000 cut from $679,460 budget proposal, 3.5% of total budget.
- Fire Department — $28,300 cut from $2.5 million budget proposal, 12.8% of total budget.
- City Clerk — $5,220 cut from $177,863, 0.9% of total budget.
- City Assessor — $400 cut from $88,265 budget proposal, 0.5% of total budget.
- Mayor — $300 cut from $63,000 budget proposal, 0.3% of total budget.
- Police Department — $60,000 cut from $3.7 million, 19.3% of total budget.
No cut, however, was made to the police tuition reimbursement line, after much discussion about it.
The topic was raised when several members of the council noticed the Police Tuition Reimbursement line in Chief Anthony “Tony” Clay’s 2022 budget proposal had jumped from $2,500 adopted for 2021 to $39,034 proposed for 2022.
“Do we have any reports on that?” 3rd Ward Councilwoman Betsy Batchelor asked.
“I mean, there wasn’t nothin’ there, and all of a sudden there’s almost $40,000,” 2nd Ward Councilman Arthur Simonds said.
First Ward Councilwoman Marcia Weiss said the tuition reimbursement breaks down with Police Officer Nicole Buckley receiving $11,551.25 for college classes toward a mental health counseling program and Captain Garavelli receiving $27,473 to pursue a Ph.D.
“That’s part of our contractual agreement, to do that?” Simonds said.
“To get a Ph.D.?” Batchelor asked.
“Yeah, I’m not sure if there’s any limit [the contract] doesn’t set any limit to the [form of] education,” Clay said.
“It’s not written in stone. I’m still applying,” Garavelli said.
Simonds asked Tammie Weiterschan, Gloversville’s commissioner of finance, how the higher-education tuition reimbursement benefit works in the city’s police labor contract and what percentage of the cost is the city on the hook for.
“It’s 75%,” Weiterschan said. “It has to be approved by the chief.”
Simonds requested a detailed explanation of how and in what circumstances the city was obligated to reimburse the tuition.
Weiterschan read the tuition reimbursement clause to the council, explaining that it was for 75% of any tuition or book cost for any member of the police labor union for any course leading to a degree in “criminal justice, police science or a police science certificate issued by an educational institution.”
Garavelli said the city already reimbursed him for his masters degree in public administration from Marist College and the USC Ph.D. program he’s pursuing is the same field of study in the area of “organizational change and leadership.”
“I would pay in advance, and when I got my bill, I would submit it to [the Gloversville Police chief],” Garavelli said.
“When would you be taking these courses? Is this a full-time thing?” Weiss asked.
Garavelli said it was not full-time.
“It’s geared towards a working professional,” he said.
“Are you required to write a thesis on that?” 5th Ward Councilman Jay Zarrelli asked.
“A dissertation … yeah, unfortunately,” Garavelli said.
Several members of the council questioned why the expense should be in the budget if it is not yet known whether Garavelli will take the classes or complete them.
Batchelor questioned whether Buckley’s mental health counseling field of study really relates to the “criminal justice, police science or a police science certificate” clause of the police contract.
Clay said he included the tuition reimbursements in his budget request so the council would be aware of them and budget funds rather than him surprising them with the bills when the officers completed the classes.
“If you want me to come back to you in May and ask for the money, I’ll do that, but I thought we were being responsible by asking our members ‘hey, if you’re planning on taking advantage of this clause of the contract, please let me know, so I can budget the funds,’ so I’m not coming to you in May saying ‘hey, by the way, Mike Garavelli went to a USC program,'” Clay said.
The $2,500 budgeted for tuition reimbursement for the 2021 budget is the adopted amount with two months remaining in 2021 for additional tuition reimbursements, should there be any.
Clay defended his approval of the courses for Buckley and Garavelli. He said the language in the police contract is “pretty archaic,” and he views the educational programs the two officers will pursue to have important value in the area of modern law enforcement where officers are quite often required to engage in mental health situations.
“I have to rely on the individual employees that they understand what they are undertaking,” Clay said.
“Well, I think you need to look at the course description pretty carefully, just to make sure,” Batchelor said.
“Well, I don’t intend on limiting somebody’s potential because it’s an intensive course, people have different abilities,” Clay said.
Weiss drilled down on the total cost of Garavelli’s Ph.D. program.
“OK, so if we do this for 2022, is this going to be the same cost in 2023?” she asked.
“It’s a three-year program, yes ma’am,” Garavelli said.
“So, [approximately] $30,000 per year, so a total of $90,000?” Weiterschan asked.
Garavelli did not give a total cost estimate.
“I think we need to discuss this more next week, not right now,” Weiss said.
Zarrelli said since the benefit is in the contract, there isn’t much to discuss, and he’s had contractual benefits in the past where he had tuition benefits but only if he “passed with a C, so, he’s covered.”
“You can’t discuss it, it’s in the contract. They have it,” 4th Ward Councilwoman Ellen Anadio said.
Batchelor questioned whether the contract language was entirely clear or being interpreted correctly.
After the budget hearing, Clay and Garavelli would not agree to be interviewed for this article.
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