Gloversville Council OKs 2 more cops, nixes police college tuition reimbursement

GLOVERSVILLE — The Gloversville Common Council on Friday concluded its 2022 budget workshop process voting to hire two new police officers, instead of four, to give raises to the city’s non-union officials, and to eliminate all police officer college tuition reimbursement from the budget.

The council had left all of the personnel items to the fourth and final meeting of its budget process. During the first three meetings, the council had agreed to reduce Mayor Vince DeSantis’ $19.4 million budget proposal by $96,220, with $60,000 cut from the police department’s proposed $3.7 million budget (19.3% of the city’s total budget) and $28,300 cut from the fire department’s proposed $2.5 million budget (12.8% of the city’s total budget).

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The changes made by the council on Friday cut more money from the police department budget. By reducing DeSantis’ proposal to hire four additional police officers down to two, the city will save at least $90,605 in salary and likely a range of between $133,605 to $141,105 in benefit costs, for a combined savings of between $224,210 and $322,315.

Second Ward Councilman Art Simonds said the debate on the council broke down between two members who did not want to hire any additional police officers and two members who wanted to hire four more. He said the council agreed to compromise and hire two new officers to a special two-year agreement that would not add any police officers to the minimum base 35 police officers currently guaranteed in the city’s police union contract.

Half a million dollars

“In 2017, we added four officers to the base [number of police officers guaranteed in the contract] bringing it from 31 to 35,” Simonds said. “That was a half of a million dollars in additional annual costs back then, so the council, in general, could not see piling on another four officers, bringing that base up to 39, because then we would be stuck with them forever, at least another half of a million dollars added to the budget every year, which the city can’t afford.”

Gloversville’s police department labor contract technically expired in 2018, but remains in place under the Triborough Amendment of New York state’s Taylor Law, which mandates all public employee union contracts remain in place until a new deal is agreed to by both sides. The city and the police union are in negotiations and arbitration over elements of the contract.

Simonds said the proposal to add two new police officers will be separate from the existing police contract.

“The city will allow the police department to add two new officers, but eventually those officers will go back into the base [of 35 minimum officers],” Simonds said. “So, right now, we will go up to 37, but over time it will go back to 35. That’s the language we’re proposing and it’s being worked on by our labor attorney right now.”

Councilman-at-large William Rowback Jr. said he decided to vote with the consensus of the council making it 6-1 in favor of the two-officer solution. He said his understanding of the proposal is that when two police officers retire or leave the department, the two additional officers hired will slide into their places as part of the contractual minimum of 35. He said 4th Ward Councilwoman Ellen Anadio voted against hiring two new officers instead of four.

“Two is better than none, if it were my choice I would have liked to have seen four,” Rowback said.

City worker raises

The council voted unanimously to approve $3,000 raises to the salaries of the police chief, fire chief, city clerk, the transit director and. the commissioner of finance. The deputy commissioner of finance received a $3,500 raise. The council also approved a $4,000 raise for the deputy city clerk and a $5,000 raise for the city’s Department of Public Works director. The raises are a $6,000 cut from DeSantis’ original proposal, which included a $5,000 raise for the deputy city clerk and a $10,000 raise for the DPW director.

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The city clerk will continue to receive a $1,500 stipend for performing duties previously assigned to a secretary shared between the mayor and city attorney. The transit director will now receive a $4,000 stipend for performing drug and alcohol testing required for the city’s bus drivers.

The city attorney’s salary will remain $68,000, and the mayor’s salary stays at $50,000.

DeSantis said the city’s department heads haven’t received raises in several years and had instead received $1,500 stipends in 2020 and in 2021, which were not added to the employees’ base salaries. DeSantis said most of the $3,000 raises will be going to department heads who will not continue receiving the $1,500 stipend.

“So, from a spending standpoint, those raises are really more like $1,500 raises, because they won’t be receiving the stipends anymore,” DeSantis said.

Tuition reimbursement removed

The council voted unanimously to eliminate $39,034 worth of tuition reimbursement in the budget, which included $11,551.25 for college classes towards a mental health counseling program for Officer Nicole Buckley and $27,473 for Captain Mike Garavelli, who is applying for a Ph.D. program at the University of Southern California.

The city’s police union contract includes a clause that reimburses police officers for 75% of the tuition costs of college courses that relate to being a police officer, with approval for the reimbursement being granted by the police chief.

DeSantis said removing the budget item for the tuition reimbursement will not prevent the police officers from putting forward a request for reimbursement for the courses if police Chief Anthony “Tony” Clay approves them. He said the council would then have a choice to either pay the reimbursement or it could become a labor contract grievance issue.

Simonds said during the entire time he’s served on the council he can’t recall any instances in which the council has ever seen any bills related to this police tuition reimbursement clause in the contract. He said the contract requires the police chief to approve the spending, but also for the mayor to be notified. He said he doesn’t know if the proper procedure has been handled for the past spending for this program and the council is looking into the issue more closely now that it has come to their attention.

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By Jason Subik

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