Pay raises spark heated Schenectady council debate
Olsen says bumps only fair; DeGenova warns of fiscal peril
SCHENECTADY The city’s new finance commissioner reluctantly interrupted a City Council meeting Monday to explain, as respectfully as she could, that the council was making a huge mistake.
“I’m sorry I have to do this in public,” Finance Commissioner Deborah DeGenova said. “And I’m sorry I have to disagree with a colleague that I have the utmost respect for. … I’m telling you, respectfully, or I’m trying to be respectful, we can’t afford this.”
And then she launched into a scathing critique of Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen’s plan to reorganize his department.
He had proposed offering 3 to 4 percent raises to a select few supervisors, as well as a nearly 40 percent raise to one employee. He also proposed cutting back on some budget lines to create enough money for a deputy commissioner. Olsen could retire in a few years, and he said the city should plan ahead for his successor.
DeGenova told the council to reject the plan.
She started by calling for “fiscal discipline.”
“I suggest we take that to heart,” she said, adding, “The ink’s barely dried on this [year’s] budget.”
She also questioned whether Olsen’s new figures for cutting certain budget lines were accurate.
“Why is there money there now?” she asked. “During the budget, we were certain those were the numbers.”
Olsen’s proposal also included 10 years of step raises for certain supervisors in his department, something no one else gets.
“You are committing the city to 4 percent increases, for sure,” she said. “It’s a commitment of resources I can’t be sure we have.”
She also noted that the raises would increase the cost of other benefits, including pensions, which go up when wages increase.
Then she took on the fairness of the matter. She noted that 38 other supervisory staff would not have the same yearly raises.
“This isn’t about some people being better than others. It’s a matter of fairness,” she said. “Some people may be less vocal and certainly less visible but no less valuable.”
Olsen did not back down.
He started with Jeremy Howard, who was hired to be his office manager. Then, as other supervisors retired, Howard was also handed responsibility for facilities and parks, which had been done by two other managers. Now he must work many evenings and weekends — but he doesn’t get any more pay for it.
“You took the job of ‘office manager,’ ” Olsen said. “Then we added A, B, C, D, E, F, G, L, X, Y and Z, and we’re not going to compensate you for any of that. Where does it end?”
He accused the City Council of abusing managers, who do not get paid overtime, by handing them more and more responsibilities as other jobs are cut.
“Just because you can take advantage of them doesn’t mean you should,” he said. “And who are you going to take advantage of next? Who is going to put themselves into that position?”
He said union workers don’t want the managerial jobs because they involve so much unpaid overtime.
He added that the 40 percent raise he proposed is for a man who is supervising the trash collection department. He is being paid as an assistant manager but works as the manager, Olsen said.
“Wouldn’t it be appropriate that I pay him at the supervisory rate?” he asked, adding that he believed Civil Service law said he must do that.
Council members discussed the matter briefly but did not come to a conclusion, saying that they were concerned by DeGenova’s financial warnings but somewhat persuaded that Olsen needed to pay his workers more.
They plan to keep discussing it until they find a resolution.
“We just need to keep slogging through it until we find a viable solution,” Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo said.