While most workers — union or nonunion — can appreciate the effort by Schenectady General Services Commissioner Carl Olsen to reward his supervisory staff with raises, city taxpayers would probably award more points to Deborah DeGenova, the city’s new finance commissioner, for pointing out the obvious about Olsen’s proposal: Not only can’t the city afford it, the timing isn’t right and it would be unfair to other workers.
The issue isn’t whether Olsen’s people deserve raises, it’s whether the city can afford them. Yes, these workers are doing more than they used to, but that’s the story line in workplaces everywhere these days. Private-sector employers typically lay off workers they can’t afford (forcing survivors to pick up the slack), while public-sector ones have kept raising taxes. That’s happened in municipalities all over the state, including Schenectady, over the years, and it’s a recipe for failure. It’s why the state imposed a 2 percent tax cap a couple years ago. But even if one weren’t in place, Olsen’s raises would be a bad idea.
One of the reasons, as DeGenova told the City Council Tuesday night, is that the raises would be costly — $174,000 annually, not counting benefits. Those would rise, too, during the workers’ careers and retirement.
Another is that giving raises to just a handful of general services supervisors wouldn’t be fair to other hard-working, overtime-deprived bosses. How could the council say no if they, too, demanded raises?
Finally, there’s timing: Fall is when such issues are properly dealt with — not a month into the new year.
Olsen’s proposal would blow a hole in the city budget and set a bad precedent. We can’t blame him for trying — it’s what a good boss does for his underlings. But the council needs to do something its predecessors have been reluctant to do in the past: say no.