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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 11, 2010

Board votes 3-to-2 against proposal
$31M budget allows no pay raises

By Anne Hayden

GUILDERLAND — The town board voted 3-to-2 last week not to adopt the supervisor’s $31 million preliminary budget for 2011.

After a hearing on Nov. 4, with no public comment, the two Republicans, Warren Redlich and Mark Grimm, opposed the budget, and Democrat Paul Pastore voted with them.

Grimm and Redlich cited a lack of transparency in the budget process, but Pastore said he did not approve of the budget because the town hadn’t finished negotiating union contracts due to expire at the end of 2010.

Town workers belong to four unions — police, paramedics, and two for office workers. As of Thursday, Nov. 4, the date the board voted on the budget proposal, none of the four contracts had been agreed upon. Democratic Supervisor Kenneth Runion told The Enterprise this week that the town board has adopted budgets in the past without union contracts being settled, but those budgets had 3-percent pay raises built in for union workers.

The 2011 preliminary budget plans no raises for any employees, union or otherwise. The only employees receiving a pay increase, the supervisor said, will be those due for a longevity bonus — 12 individuals out of 250 workers. Runion said the status quo salaries are a necessary measure to avoid raising taxes. Under the proposed budget, the tax rate would remain at 26 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

“I think that Paul is concerned, and rightfully so, that, if one of the contracts comes in with a salary increase in it, it could impact the way the current preliminary budget reads,” Runion said. However, he said, he does not anticipate the lack of raises leading to delayed negotiations.

The cost of health insurance and the retirement contributions have both increased, said Runion, so, even though employees won’t get a pay raise, extra monetary contributions are built into employees’ benefits.

“One of the considerations the members of the board have made is to try to be reflective of the prevailing economic times, which are challenging. We didn’t provide for any increases in pay,” Pastore told The Enterprise this week. He said he felt that the budget process, which included two budget workshops, was open and transparent.

“If there was any outstanding or unresolved issue with the budget, I thought perhaps it was the contract negotiations,” said Pastore. He said he was hopeful that, if all details of the budget were examined, it would get bipartisan support.

“As it turned out, the concerns from the minority went beyond the issue of whether or not the budget was transparent. Regardless of how the negotiations turn out, it won’t change the opinions of the minority,” Pastore said.

Redlich, at last week’s meeting, said he believed the estimates for the sales-tax revenue from Albany County were too high, and that the budget did not reflect the anticipated increases in pension contributions. Grimm said he thought the town assessor, John Macjeka, was getting a “back door pay raise” because the budget specified Macjeka would work an extra five hours per week, and would be paid accordingly.

Runion said this week that he had originally proposed Macjeka’s staying at a 35-hour week and hiring a part-time assessment clerk, but that, at a budget workshop, board members discussed adding five hours per week to Macjeka’s schedule and not filling the part-time position, to save money. Runion said he plans to re-propose hiring a part-time assessment clerk at the next town board meeting.

“I’m trying to get some bipartisan support on this; we haven’t had bipartisan support on a budget in three years,” said Runion. “The problem we have is that, with Grimm and Redlich, if the budget has anything that doesn’t come out as we anticipated, they raise a big to-do about it.”

Grimm called Pastore’s opposing vote a “little surprise that they sprang on us.”

“Obviously the vote was planned, and Runion was ready for it. It should have been brought up before the vote. I would have liked to have had a discussion about it,” Grimm told The Enterprise this week. Pastore, however, said the board held at least one executive session held regarding contract issues before the public hearing, and his vote should have come as no surprise to other board members.

Rodger Stone, the town’s zoning code enforcement officer and president of the Civil Service Employees Association Unit B, said his unit’s contract has been negotiated since the Nov. 4 meeting, and that it was done in a very professional manner.

“Nobody was really upset about the lack of a pay raise. We understand that, if the money is not there, it’s not there,” said Stone this week. The Unit B contract was approved by a vote of 23 to 4, he said. Stone said it is typical to have a few negative votes on any new contract.

Asked if he anticipated objections on no raises from other unions, Runion said, “Someone is always going to be unhappy about something.”

There are other changes in the contract that both Stone and Runion said help alleviate the lack of a pay raise, including the ability to sell back vacation time, increased personal days, and, most importantly, a no lay-off clause.

“It makes it a little bit easier if you can tell employees they aren’t going to get a raise, but they have job security for at least a year. We have to look at non-monetary incentives,” said Runion. The new contract expires after one year, instead of two years.

“Hopefully, 2011 will prove to be a better year, economically, and in 2012 we can negotiate raises and a longer term,” Stone said.

According to Runion, preliminary talks have been held with the paramedics, and he is hoping to set up a meeting with the Police Benevolent Association before Thanksgiving.

According to State Town Law, changes can be proposed and made to the preliminary budget up until Nov. 20. If the town board does not approve the budget by Nov. 20, the preliminary budget automatically becomes the final budget.

“In the event that the town board shall fail to adopt a budget as of the twentieth day of November…the preliminary budget, with such changes, alterations and revisions, if any, as shall have been made by the town board, shall constitute the budget for the ensuing fiscal year,” the law reads.

“I am willing to listen to any changes proposed at the next town board meeting on Nov. 16,” said Runion. “I’m willing to compromise.”

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