Saratoga County Board of Supervisors: A Secret Sweetheart Deal

The agenda for the aborted April 17, 2020, special meeting of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors contained a seemingly innocuous item:

Approving Collective Bargaining Agreement with Saratoga County Sheriff Officers Association, Inc. (Corrections Unit) for 2019

It turns out that this agreement with the Corrections Officers bargaining unit would have granted each officer $1,500.00 plus a 2% raise for the year retroactive to January 1, 2019.

WAMC reporter Lucas Willard reported the following from an email he received earlier from County Administrator Spencer Hellwig regarding County employee salaries:

“…no county employees are currently receiving time-and-a-half. The change was made in a decision by the COVID oversight group on April 2nd, effective April 3rd.”

Hellwig also wrote:

“items discussed during CBA [JK:collective bargaining agreement] negotiations with Public Safety unions are to be kept confidential.”

My reading of all this is that Hellwig, Preston Allen and their allies attempted to take the heat off themselves by increasingly dialing back on who was receiving the time and a half raises until, after a secret meeting on April 2, they were all eliminated. Reneging on these promised raises , however, lead to union grievances which now had to be addressed. Their hope was that an agreement with the Corrections Officers that had been discussed behind closed doors without the knowledge or participation of many if not most of the Supervisors could slide past with a quick approval at the end of the special meeting. All these salary agreements are being presented without any analysis of what the state of the county’s finances may be as this crisis continues.

I understand the other members of the Deputy Sheriffs Union are still in negotiations.

I expect that the insurgents will insist on answers when the Board of Supervisors holds its regular monthly on Tuesday.

4 thoughts on “Saratoga County Board of Supervisors: A Secret Sweetheart Deal”

  1. I am not familiar with all the details of the deputies’ contract such as how long a term the new contract covers and what raises are stipulated for subsequent years. The $1500 increment plus a two percent increase represents nearly a 5% total increase based on the average salary of $63,000. They did very well and should hang on to that labor attorney.

    I am much more familiar with the union contracts negotiated by the Saratoga Springs City Council. I always favored across the board increments instead of percentage increases. When percentage increases are applied to all employees in a union, disparities are made worse because there are other longevity schedules which are also being applied to the salary levels. A union member early in their career often is often making less than half the salary of their more senior colleagues due to these automatic pay increases. A 2% increase for the employee making $40,000 is $800 while the employee earning $80,000 gets $1,600, though it’s the same contract. Over a five year contract at 2.5% per year, that disparity gets much worse.

    I was never able to convince our City Council to approve across the board incremental sums rather than percentage increases in order to help the employees on the lower end of the salary scale who needed the raises the most. And I was disappointed to find that the unions did not show more concern for their younger members who were often facing difficult financial challenges.

    Over the last ten years, the cost of living adjustments for social security recipients averaged 1.52%. The union contracts for City employees ranged between 2% and 3% over that period. The CSEA employee unions consistently did less well than the uniform services such as PBA and the firefighters. This is not sustainable over years as the City salary increases are annually exceeding the level of inflation.

    Since the unions have negotiated very significant (and fair) periodic salary increases based on years of service, I have felt that the annual raises should be more closely tied to the COLA so that their earnings are protected from the effects of inflation. Such an approach to this touchy subject ensures that future City Councils are not overwhelmed by unmanageable payroll expenses. Given the fiscal challenges that both the City and the County are facing as a result of the COVID-19 emergency, it’s especially important now that their labor contracts are negotiated with great care.

    Chris Mathiesen

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Saratoga County government’s structure bears a troubling resemblance to the structure being proposed for Saratoga Springs in the charter change proposal that will be on the November ballot in the city—the 3rd proposal to come before voters in the last 4 years

    This latest charter change proposal would change the current commission form of government we currently have that is responding so well to the current crisis (as it did to the crisis of the fire in city hall) to a ward system with a city manager. Instead of being able to vote for the entire city council, Saratogians under this change could only vote for one representative from their district just as county residents can only vote for a representative from their town and have no say in any of the other Supervisors who sit on the Board.

    Likewise, instead of an elected Mayor the city council would hire a so-called “professional” to actually run the city. Backers of this plan argue that a hired “professional” will do a better job than anyone voters could elect. We have only to look at the county version of a city manager—Spencer Hellwig, the hired County Administrator-to see the flaw in that argument as Hellwig runs the secret committee responsible for the pay raise debacle keeping Supervisors in the dark.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I should be understood by all that the Commission form of government is very good at dealing with crises. The genesis of this approach to local government was desperation in dealing with an unexpected disaster.

      The problem with the Commission form of government is that it fails so miserably in the many other aspects of what efficient, functional and democratic City governance should be.

      Saratoga County government has failed to govern responsibly primarily because it has for so long been under the complete control of one political party.

      Chris Mathiesen

      Liked by 2 people

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