State board grants 5 years of raises to Scotia cops
SCOTIA Scotia police officers will get pay increases retroactive to 2009, following a ruling this week by the state Public Employment Relations Board.
The ruling gives police 3.25 percent increases for 2009, 2010 and 2011 and 2 percent increases for 2012 and 2013.
The police union and the village haven’t had a contract for more than four years — the last one ended May 31, 2009 — and both sides have been unable to agree on a new one. After both negotiations and mediation failed, PERB began arbitration, a process that relies on an impartial arbitrator or panel to come up with a final resolution.
“The award is a compromise,” the panel wrote in a report filed Thursday with PERB. “Although it does not fulfill all of the wishes of either party, it is accepted by all three panel members.”
The union had argued for a slightly larger increase, with its main argument that other village employees received this salary increase either through collective bargaining or a village policy for non-union employees.
The award is still a win for the officers, though. The panel based its award on wage adjustments and career earning comparisons of officers in other Schenectady County municipalities. The village, meanwhile, had requested the panel make its decision based on wage adjustments made for officers in similarly sized villages. Ultimately, the panel decided the wages should be competitive for the local marketplace.
Before the panel could decide on the police officers’ base wages and health insurance benefits for the period June 1, 2009, through May 31, 2014, it first had to agree on how to compare Scotia police with police in similar communities, whether the village has the ability to pay the wage increase and what the best interests of the public are.
On all three matters, the panel sided with the Scotia Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. The PBA argued the panel should compare village police officers with officers in other Schenectady County municipalities, including Glenville, Schenectady, Niskayuna and Rotterdam, since these are the places Scotia competes with to attract and retain officers. The village wanted the panel to compare its officers with officers in the Herkimer County villages of Herkimer and Ilion and the Washington County village of Hudson Falls because they have similar populations, types of governments and crime volumes.
“The village notes that with its population of 7,729, there is no logic to comparing it to municipalities that are between three times and eight times its population,” the report read, in reference to the respective populations of Rotterdam and Schenectady.
The panel disagreed, mostly. It decided the town of Glenville is the “most comparable” to the village because it has the same marketplace of schools and housing, it competes with Scotia for police officers, it has a similar department size and almost identical crime statistics. Rotterdam and Niskayuna should be considered for similar reasons, the panel said, adding the village of Hudson Falls had common characteristics with Scotia to make it a good comparison, as well.
The PBA and village painted entirely different pictures of the village’s ability to pay police officers a raise, each with their own testimony, evidence, finance experts and analysis. The PBA noted Scotia’s low tax-levy increases over the years, its more-than-ample fund balance and its “structurally sound” budget. The village argued the award would cover a time period “when the nation was suffering the effects of one of the greatest economic recessions in its history” and that, as a result, it must be sensitive to taxpayers.
The village may have been adversely affected by the recession, the panel wrote in its final decision, but the “fundamental economic conditions” of the village are strong.
“The village has done an excellent job of managing its resources,” the decision read. “The village continues to have a strong fund balance and does not have a structural budget deficit from year to year as is the case in some municipalities where revenues are not matching expenses. The panel finds that the village has the ability to pay for this award and that the wage and other increases constitute a fair and reasonable award.”
The panel also had to weigh the interests and welfare of the public when making its decision, as required by Civil Service Law. On this, it sided with the PBA that village taxpayers would benefit from having a professional, well-trained police department — something that can only happen when its officers are given competitive wages and benefits.
Both sides will have to come up with another contract by June 1, 2014.