SARATOGA SPRINGS — The city’s 20 highest-paid workers includes 15 police and fire employees, some whose incomes were strengthened by handsome overtime.
According to the Spa City’s response to a Freedom of Information Law request by The Daily Gazette, 10 of the employees were in the Police Department, headed by Police Chief Shane Crooks, who ranked second among the city’s highest paid employees, with a base salary of $128,750 and gross income of $146,525.
Assistant Chief John Catone, who retired last month, ranked fourth in pay among city workers, with a base salary of $122,951, and gross income of just over $145,000.
Five employees were in the Fire Department, including Fire Chief James Dolan’s $128,727 base salary and $132,816 in gross income, which ranked 10th in the city.
Two fire captains, Michael Evans and Jeffrey Alonzo, ranked 12th and 13th, with gross incomes of $132,187 and $130,084, respectively. Evans and Alonzo’s pay were beefed up by eye-catching OT payments of $24,943 and $27,924, respectively.
A police employee whose final payout stood out was retired Sgt. Timothy Sicko, who earned a base salary of $75,536, yet made another $14,480 in overtime, and a gross income of $144,253.
Crooks explained that most of the difference in Sicko’s income was the result of unused sick time he accrued during his career.
Also, Robert Jillson, who was recently promoted from police lieutenant to assistant chief, earned $24,531 in overtime, helping him amass $141,556 in gross income for the year.
Jillson was joined in significant summertime patrols that resulted in OT by Officer Lloyd Davis, whose base pay was just under $83,000, yet he claimed a hard-not-to-notice $39,771 in OT.
The overtime payments were the result of understaffing in the police and fire departments, Crooks and Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino said.
Crooks explained that the city saw three officers defect to other departments, while another three retired unexpectedly last year.
“There’s lots of people who just look at the numbers and think, ‘This person made a lot of overtime,’ ” the police chief said. “Well, they did. But they were here when we needed them. They were here for the big events. They were here on the weekends, breaking up the fights downtown.”
Alongside dealing with the impact of the pandemic, and a temporary hold on police trainings and other things, Crooks put more officers on the streets to deal with summer tourism and a spike in violence that included a shooting and stabbing incidents last year.
“I believe five handguns were taken off the street over the summer,” Crooks said.
While Crooks went line by line about the 10 officers who made the city’s Top 20 list, Fire Chief Dolan was less revealing about the five members of his department who made the list, including the two captains’ combined $52,867 in OT.
When reached by phone, Dolan immediately transferred the call to Assistant Fire Chief Aaron Dyer, the department spokesman, who did not return the phone message.
Crooks further explained that both he and Catone’s incomes were improved by education incentives.
“All the officers in the department get different stipends for college incentives,” he said. “We place a priority on education and furthering people’s education here.”
Crooks and Catone were also helped by working holidays, the chief said.
“While most of City Hall shuts down for the holidays,” Crooks said, “the Police Department doesn’t. So if the chiefs work the holidays, unless we take it off – like a vacation day – we don’t just get the day off. But if you work the holiday like all the other patrolmen, you get holiday pay.”
About Davis’ nearly $40,000 in OT, Crooks said: “That means he worked on his days off. He was here, volunteering to work a lot of times when he was needed. And when you do stuff like that, you give up your holidays. You give up barbecues. You give up events like that with the family. He’s here for the city when the city needs him.”
Two officers are expected to be out of commission during the upcoming summer because of injury and pregnancy, Crooks said. Therefore, similar OT numbers can be expected at the end of 2022.
It should be noted that the city has about 30,000 residents. But Crooks suggested that the figure doesn’t take into account the city’s vibrancy, with people who have second homes here and reside here part time, and its numerous visitors on weekends.
“We’re not policing strictly the residents of the city,” he said. “If you look at our arrests, probably about 60% are non-city residents.”
Montagnino, the new public safety commissioner, said he didn’t see anything in the incomes that causes him to be concerned.
He said that the city earns income from the Fire Department’s ambulance responses, to the tune of more than $1 million annually.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have enough staff to cover all of the shifts without using overtime,” the commissioner said.
Montagnino also noted that there’s a mid-day overtime shift that, by agreement, pays straight time to firefighters.
“So it shows up, the dollar for dollar in their pay, but they’re actually being paid straight time for additional hours worked if they’re doing this particular daytime shift,” the commissioner said.
The 2022 budget includes the addition of four firefighters, and the City Council recently signed off on pursuit of a federal SAFER grant that could bolster the Fire Department’s ranks, Montagnino said.
The department will need the additional firefighters as it endeavors to build a third fire station, he said.
But even with that, it takes nearly a year to put an appointed firefighter on the street, considering their training, Montagnino said.
“We’re hoping and praying that we’re entitled to a significant sum of money [from the SAFER grant] to allow us to hire a lot more firefighters because of the staffing requirements of the new station, as well as the staffing requirements of the existing two stations,” he said.
The industry standard for the safest, most efficient manning of a fire engine is four members to a crew. But Saratoga Springs is running with three members on some shifts, according to Montagnino.
As far as the police, Montagnino said he has been in talks with the patrol officers’ bargaining unit to discuss revamping schedules for portions of the day in which the department is understaffed.
“There are 12-hour shifts for patrol officers that have been in place since May 2021,” Montagnino said. “It’s my firm belief, based upon a federal study that was done for law enforcement, that 12-hour shifts are inherently unsafe.”
With overtime, an officer could conceivably work 16 hours, take eight hours off, and then return for another 12-hour shift, which is cause for concern, he said.
Overall, Montagnino, a former prosecutor, said the police incomes didn’t shock him either.
“I’ve been in government service for more than 30 years,” he said, “and I know there are some built in problems in state and local government, generally, that are intractable ones. For example, overtime gets bid, and so senior people have dibs on overtime.”
This incentivizes workers who have seniority to scramble for as much OT as they can get, so that their final average salary can be as high as possible for calculating their pensions.
Changes to the system with Tier 6 employees will ultimately ameliorate some of those problems because it puts a significant limit on how much higher than the regular salary the final average salary can be, Montagnino said.
But it will be a generation before the full effect of that will be felt, he said.
The highest paid employee in 2021 was longtime IT Systems Manager Kevin Kling, who made $150,332 in 2021. Kling recently retired, replaced by Michael Wangerin.
Asked about the list of highest paid employees, it should come as little surprise that new Mayor Ron Kim singled out former City Attorney Vincent DeLeonardis, who made $144,503 in gross income, Saratoga Springs’ fifth-highest paid employee.
Kim opted not to retain DeLeonardis and part-time city attorney Tony Izzo, stating that the city could get more value by hiring just a part-time attorney who’d work an average of 30 hours per week.
Kim posted the city attorney post for an annual salary of $95,000 to $105,000.
The new mayor said the city would gain value by leveraging his and Deputy Mayor Angela Rella’s backgrounds as lawyers.
However, it remains to be seen if Kim will succeed in his endeavor.
His first choice for city attorney backed out of the running in recent weeks, and the position remains unfilled. Kim was also criticized by a city court judge for showing up in court on behalf of the city on a building permit matter.
Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.