Editor's note: This story was corrected at 12:23 p.m. on Oct. 25, 2018. An earlier version incorrectly stated the amount of the raise budgeted for Michael Eidens.
SCHENECTADY -- The city's plan to spend $86.8 million in 2019 includes raises for several city employees, including a $41,000 boost for Public Safety Commissioner Michael Eidens.
Other raises include a more than $8,000 raise for city Commissioner of General Services Paul LaFond, and a more than $7,000 raise for city Finance Commissioner Anthony Ferrari.
Mayor Gary McCarthy, who proposed the spending plan earlier this week, said on Thursday that the raises, which come after five years of smaller, incremental salary increases for the positions in question, are warranted.
“It reflects the work being done and the competitiveness of the market,” McCarthy said, adding that the city also became more efficient and reduced other anticipated expenses for 2019.
City Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo said the raises did give her some concern. Regardless of the position, she said she didn’t understand the $41,000 raise for Eidens.
“I certainly want to hear the supporting information as to why that raise was put into the budget,” Perazzo said. “But it’s not the only raise that concerns me.”
LaFond’s $8,577 proposed raise will bring him to a yearly salary of $132,000. Ferrari’s $7,717 proposed salary boost would take his salary to $104,000.
With those raises going to department heads, Perazzo said she was more concerned for the city employees whose unions had to fight for their raises.
The City Council approved pay increases for two of its labor unions earlier this year, including the terms of a contract with the Civil Service Employees Association Local 1000, which gave retroactive 2 percent raises for the years 2017 to 2019.
The council also approved the contract for employees covered by the AFSCME Local 1037A union, -- also providing for 2 percent raises for the years 2017 until 2020.
“It’s a cost-of-living adjustment, not really a raise,” Perazzo said of the approved contracts. “So, then we should be giving cost-of-living adjustment raises across the board on every level.”
Eidens was brought on in October of 2017, following the death of longtime commissioner Wayne Bennett. He accepted the position with a salary of $94,000. If the proposed raise goes through, his salary for 2019 will come to $135,000.
Bennett's salary was $131,000, according to the 2017 adopted budget.
McCarthy said that, while Bennett’s salary was less than what he is proposing for Eidens, Bennett had a car paid for by the city. Eidens does not.
During his State of the City address in January, McCarthy said that, in addition to overseeing the Fire and Police departments, Eidens would also oversee the Buildings Department this year. That department includes code enforcement.
The additional duties were added to address issues with code enforcement following the 2015 fire on Jay Street that killed four people.
A grand jury report from April said the city’s Bureau of Code Enforcement failed to act on 14 code violations filed by city firefighters regarding the Jay Street apartment building where the fire started.
Speaking to the City Council in April, Eidens detailed a number of changes being made to the department.
McCarthy said Eidens' 2019 raise reflects the additional workload of overseeing the Buildings Department.
Councilman John Polimeni, chairman of the city’s Finance Committee, also pointed to the expanded job description as justification for the boost.
“Because we originally hired him just for police and fire,” Polimeni said.
Eidens served a 10-year term as a Schenectady County Court judge from 1995 until 2004, before choosing not to seek re-election. He draws an annual pension of $73,817 from that career, according to SeeThroughNY.
Independent Councilman Vince Riggi said the raise makes him wonder how Eidens has been splitting his time.
“It’s hard to wear that many hats and be efficient at what you’re doing,” Riggi said.
McCarthy said LaFond’s raise reflects his oversight of the city’s water, wastewater and sewage operations. McCarthy also said LaFond holds certifications to run each of those operations.
“If you look at the market, people are having a harder and harder time finding someone with a license to run those facilities,” McCarthy said.
For Ferrari, McCarthy said he gave him a bump in pay to bring him to the level of the previous finance commissioner, Deborah DeGenova. Before Ferrari took the position, DeGenova was earning an annual salary of $100,107, according to the 2016 adopted budget.
When Ferrari became finance commissioner in 2017, he earned $94,395. That was increased to $96,283 in 2018.
Beginning in 2013, DeGenova, Bennett and former Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen saw incremental raises each year of between $1,000 and $2,000.
McCarthy said another reason for the department heads' raises was the difficulty he was having in filling other positions. He wanted to make sure he could keep people in those management positions by giving them competitive salaries, he said.
McCarthy introduced his proposed budget to council members on Oct. 1. It calls for a 0.53 percent property tax cut while avoiding any layoffs or increased fees.
The tax levy is proposed to be at $30.75 million, which is $30,000 less than in the 2018 budget. The tax rate is also proposed to be $13.08 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
The city drew approximately $3.6 million from its fund balance for the 2019 budget, which is less than the approximately $4.3 million it used in 2018, according to Alex Sutherland, the city’s director of operations.
Two vacant city government positions would also see pay increases under the mayor's proposed spending plan, including the administrative assistant to the mayor. The salary for that post would increase from $27,322 in 2018, to $52,000 in the coming year, under the proposal.
McCarthy said the position has been vacant since the end of 2017, and whoever fills it will take on more projects, including the roll-out of the Smart City initiative.
The other vacant post, Supervisor of Buildings, would carry a salary of $60,112 in the coming year, up from $45,084 called for in the current year's spending plan.
McCarthy said he plans to have whoever is hired to that position take on more maintenance roles, including upkeep of City Hall, the police and fire departments, and other city buildings.
“It’s a higher level position, and it is being paid for by consolidating positions,” McCarthy said. “It requires a higher level of skill-set of maintenance -- maintenance of systems and doing actual repairs.”
Council members Perazzo, Riggi and Polimeni said they are looking forward to more explanations from McCarthy about the pay raises.
Polimeni said that, while the increases are concerning, the council will use the upcoming budget hearing to learn why they are necessary.
“With performance-based budgeting, that’s exactly what we’re looking for,” Polimeni said.
The next public meeting for the budget will begin at 5:30 p.m. Friday at The Bridge Christian Church on Crane Street.
A public hearing on the budget will be held during the City Council meeting on Tuesday. That meeting starts at 7 p.m.
There will also be budget hearings from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 10, 11, 16 and 17 in City Hall.
The city must approve its budget on or before Nov. 1.