I have written in recent posts about the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors granting a 50% raise to their “essential” employees. Here’s more of what I have been learning about this.
The Cost Of These Salary Increases Is Estimated To Be Big
According to the minutes of the March 17 Board of Supervisors meeting, the estimated cost of this raise was projected to be $325,000.00 per week. This was the number presented to the Board by Spencer Hellwig, County Administrator. He did indicate that there was hope that the number of employees covered by this might be reduced in the future. He also acknowledged he had no idea how long this would go on. So if these raises were projected out over four weeks it would cost Saratoga County an additional $1,300,000.00.
The Law and Finance Committee for the Board of Supervisors basically sets the Board of Supervisors agendas. All resolutions from subcommittees of the Board must pass through this committee, and the Law and Finance Committee also drafts their own resolutions.
Rob Arrigo, chair of the Saratoga County Libertarian Party, sent me the minutes from the March 17, 2020, Law and Finance Committee and the March 17, 2020, full Board of Supervisors meeting. These documents are the sources of much of the information for this post.
Saratoga Springs Supervisors Deny Knowledge Of How The Salaries For Essential Employees were increased by 50%
As noted in the last post, Supervisor Tara Gaston claimed she had no knowledge of how the salary increases had been instituted and claimed that she had written to the county (it is not clear exactly to whom) asking for clarification. She said she had heard nothing.
Supervisor Matthew Veitch responded to an email asking him about these raises. In his email he said that he opposes them and would vote against them. Similar to Ms. Gaston he said he was not involved in the decision and had no knowledge of how it was done.
Unfortunately for both Supervisors Gaston and Veitch the records show that they were both privy to discussions about adopting the policy and directly involved in the decision. In reality, they both voted to adopt the salary increases.
What The Public Record Shows
According to the minutes of the Law and Finance Committee, while neither Ms. Gaston or Mr. Veitch is a member of the Committee, both Supervisors were in attendance and were privy to the decision to send the salary increases proposal to the full Board.
Here is an excerpt from the minutes of the meeting:
Mr. Schopf asked for clarification that half of the County’s workforce is being sent home yet still have to appropriate $325,000. Mr. Wright said it is because of the employees working will receive time and one-half. (Emphasis added)Law and Finance Committee Minutes
It Is Not True!
Mr. Kusnierz asked if the State and other localities were providing time and a half. Ms. McNamara said the state was as well as some municipalities.Law and Finance Committee Minutes
Ms. McNamara is Marcie McNamara, the county Director of Human Resources. In a story on WNYT (Channel 13), Mark Mulholand reported that Washington County was paying its hourly workers more but not its salaried employees which Saratoga is. As far as I can tell, that is the only other county. What is clearly false is her assertion that state workers are receiving time and a half.
At the full Board of Supervisors meeting, again both Supervisors Gaston and Veitch were present.
The minutes of the discussion of the resolution that would allow for the salary increases makes clear that the Supervisors were fully aware of the impact the resolution would have if adopted.
Here is just one excerpt from the minutes of that meeting:
He [JK: Supervisor Kusnierz] asked the County Administrator to provide the costs as they relate to salaries and rates of pay for the 30 day period. Mr. Hellwig said the cost per week is approximately $325,000 [JK: The figure used at the Law and Finance Committee for how much the increase of time and a half would cost]. Mr. Kusnierz said this is an issue that will continue for some time and asked if there is an anticipation that these provisions will continue to be renewed moving forward after the 30 days. Mr. Allen said there is no way to predict how long this will continue.
At the end of this post is the full text of the discussion regarding the raises. The resolution that would allow for these raises passed unanimously. It begs credibility that both Ms. Gaston and Mr. Veitch were unaware that their vote would result in these raises going forward.
Even more stunning, as the minutes show, Ms. Gaston attempted to end the public discussion of these raises and move to an executive session. Clearly she saw how potentially volatile this issue could be.
A Major Conflict of Interest
The resolution included a clause that authorized the establishment of what I will call the “Special Committee” to determine “rates of compensation.” The committee will be comprised of the Chair of the Board of Supervisors, the chairs of two subcommittees of the Board, the County Administrator, and the Director of Human Resources.
The County Administrator and the Director of Finance have clear conflicts of interest. Both of these positions are beneficiaries of the 50% raises. Why these two administrative positions need these raises is something I cannot answer. Having them sit on the committee that determines their own salaries adds insult to injury.
Here is the text authorizing their participation in the committee
RESOLVED, that the Chair of the Board, the Chair of the Law and Finance Committee, the Chair of the Human Resources and Insurance Committee, the County Administrator and the Director of Human Resources shall have the authority to jointly determine appropriate County employee staffing levels and rates of compensation that are consistent and in compliance with the current directives of any Executive Order issued by the Governor of the State of New York relative to local government staffing levels; and be it further
A Slight Of Hand That Fools No One
A careful reading of the resolution reveals that there is nothing in it that explicitly authorizes the 50% increase for salaries of “essential workers”. Instead it empowers the “Special Committee” to set salaries. This maneuver made it possible for the members of the Board of Supervisors to claim “deniability.” They think they can avoid accountability by claiming they were not involved in the actual establishment of the salaries even though they voted to establish a committee whose clear purpose was to do this.
This is truly the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. Both the minutes of the Law and Finance Committee and the Board of Supervisors reveal that the main purpose of the Special Committee was to raise salaries. The minutes record the Supervisors discussing what the projected cost for the raises will be. The horse is out of the barn. It is too late to claim ignorance.
For those who are interested, here is further information from the minutes for the Law and Finance Committee as they deliberated about the raises and the minutes of the full Board of Supervisors covering their discussion of this issue:
Excerpt From Minutes Of Law And Finance
Mr. Schopf asked for clarification that half of the County’s workforce is being sent home yet still have to appropriate $325,000. Mr. Wright said it is because of the employees working will receive time and one-half. Mr. Hellwig said there was a meeting with the unions. Three days later the State’s Executive Order came out. The unions responded if employees had to go to work, there should be additional compensation. Mr. Kusnierz asked if that was for salaried individuals as well or just union employees. Mr. Hellwig said all county employees. Mr. Kusnierz is concerned with the precedent this may be setting. Mr. Pemrick said everything that is happening right now is brand new, precedents may be set and we will have to deal with them later. Mrs. McNamara said this was a union decision as well as a management decision. Mr. Kusnierz asked if the State and other localities were providing time and a half. Mrs. McNamara said the state was as well as some municipalities. Mr. Pemrick said this was being evaluated on a weekly basis. Mrs. McNamara said Departments will be evaluated to determine if they can close.
On a motion was made by Mr. Wright, seconded by Mr. Tollisen a resolution authorizing emergency actions was unanimously adopted. Mr. Kusnierz and Mr. Schopf were in support of moving this forward to the Board for discussion.
Full Text Of Board of Supervisors Discussion on Raises
Mr. Kusnierz said he supported Resolution 84 in Law and Finance to move it to the Board for discussion. He said the last resolved indicates that the provision of the resolution shall be in effect for as long as the emergency is in effect for the County. He asked the County Administrator to provide the costs as they relate to salaries and rates of pay for the 30 day period. Mr. Hellwig said the cost per week is approximately $325,000. Mr. Kusnierz said this is an issue that will continue for some time and asked if there is an anticipation that these provisions will continue to be renewed moving forward after the 30 days. Mr. Allen said there is no way to predict how long this will continue. Mr. Kusnierz asked if there was a cost estimate if this goes until the end of the fiscal year. Mr. Hellwig said there is no way to know but there are initiatives in place to scale this back. There are departments that additional reductions can be made to lower the cost to the County. The list of departments is a work in progress but will have a better idea in a day or two. Mrs. McNamara said each department has been asked to cut their workforce by at least 50%. The Public Works Department has been reduced by 82%. She said Thursday she would provide a recommended list of departments that can close as the interaction between county employees needs to be limited.
Mr. Kinowski asked if there was any chance of recouping funds from the State/Federal Government. Mr. Hellwig said all departments have been asked to track any extraordinary expenses as a result of the pandemic.
Mr. Barrett asked if the provision for additional pay is in any of the NYS Executive Orders. Mrs. McNamara said it was not. It was purely from an employee relations standpoint. Mr. Barrett asked who was covered by the provisions. Mrs. McNamara said it is any county employee who is coming in to work.
Ms. Gaston asked for a point of order as she questioned whether this subject would be better discussed in Executive Session. Mr. Dorsey said the discussion was relevant to the Resolution presented and does not need to be in Executive Session.
Mr. Barrett said if the Public Works Department was reduced by 82% will there be enough manpower going forward to handle situations as they may arise. Mrs. McNamara said the Public Works Commissioner can call back any or all of his workforce as he deems necessary.
Mr. Barrett said it was mentioned at Law and Finance that this would be looked at on a weekly basis. He does not see that in the resolution what the mechanism for that review is. Mr. Dorsey said in the last resolved on the third page does state who would be reviewing this.
Mr. Schopf said his concern is the appropriation for $150,000 for regular wages and if he reads the resolution correctly, that is for additional staffing for Public Health; and $325,000 for additional wages for over time/non overtime wages for people who are supposed to report to work anyway. That amount is more than what is allocated in resolution. Mr. Allen said the amount is what the County has at this time and if departments are closed that number will drop. Mr. Schopf asked Mr. Cooke about the $325,000 that was reported at Law & Finance. Mr. Cooke said that was the number reported if the staffing remains at 50%; however that 50% number has gone down and will continue to go down. Mr. Schopf said his concern is some of his constituents may lose their jobs and the county is essentially providing a 50% raise.
Mr. Pemrick said he knows money trumps just about anything. This unique situation requires unique actions. This is an opportunity to keep people safe but also build some respect, cooperation and good will within the staff.
Mr. Peck said we are in trying times and we need to give some flexibility to the leadership to help guide the County. We need to stand behind them and support them. We need to evolve and move forward as we go through this process.
Mr. Lawler asked if the concern is on the compensation portion of the resolution. Mr. Schopf said his concern was for the additional funding for staff and not for the funding to support Public Health. Mr. Lawler said we are in unchartered waters and there are merits on both sides of this. He suggested committing to the time and a half for a 30-day period but beyond that, there needs to be a review. Mrs. McNamara said the county would not be committed to a 30-day period for the time and a half. She said it will be one week at a time and the unions do know that.
Mr. Schopf said that he would support it for a one-week period. Mr. Kusnierz said he whole-heartedly supports this. His concerns have been addressed.