Proposed Pay Raises Causes Concerns

“Blindsided” was the word most commonly used by City Councillors Monday evening when describing a last-minute communication from Mayor Dan Rizzo that sought to change the City’s salary ordinance so four non-union department heads could gain significant salary increases.

In fact, when the matter was brought up at the end of the meeting, councillors were nearly speechless and weren’t sure how to even handle the request.

Many reported they had only seen the communication five minutes prior to it being brought up.

“I was surprised,” said Council President Ira Novoselsky. “I couldn’t even immediately remember our procedures I was so shocked, and I put it in committee instead of calling for a public hearing. They [the employees] were all sitting there and I’m not sure if they expected us to pass it right there. We ended up having to just go to a public hearing. A lot of the councillors were surprised.”

The ordinance change calls for four non-union department heads to get salary increases by ordinance – effectively changing the City’s salary ordinance for the Superintendent of Public Works, the City Director of Finance, the City Clerk and the City Solicitor. The ordinance was prompted by a union contract negotiation with City Hall employees. The four department heads listed above, though, are statutorily barred from belonging to a municipal union.

While the ordinance calls for an expansion of the duties of the Director of Finance – making that position in charge of things such as Worker’s Compensation and performance-based budgeting – most every other job gets the salary increase without an increase in duties.

The salary increases are as follows:

•City Clerk Ashley Melnik, $98,427 (made $85,508 in 2012)

•DPW Superintendent Don Goodwin, $99,990 (2012 = $95,466)

•Director of Finance George Anzuoni, $150,000 (2012 = $130,410)

•City Solicitor Paul Capizzi, $82,468 (2012 = $80,021)

If the measure were approved, the pay raises would be retroactive to July 1, 2012, and the employees would get the same contractual pay increases going forward that were negotiated by the City Hall bargaining units. Those increases were 2 percent each year through 2014.

Mayor Rizzo said the request came due to a salary study done for those four non-union employees while in the course of negotiating with the City Hall unions.

He said all four appeared to be below that of their peers in surrounding cities. However, he did not immediately produce that study for councillors or the public.

“We conducted our own salary study for people not part of collective bargaining,” said the mayor. “There were some people not completely in line with surrounding cities and towns, particularly with our workload…I’ve been here 18 months and I’ve seen the workload the four people in question have had to handle in very, very difficult circumstances. I’m only asking the City Council to bring them up to parity with our sister cities of similar size.”

Councillors, however, were not immediately interested in such justice.

Councillor John Correggio said he couldn’t support the matter, as he had some concerns about giving out such an increase to at least one of the employees.

Councillor John Powers said it was an awkward time to ask for an ordinance change to increase salaries.

Councillor Bob Haas was beside himself, saying it was unprecedented to lay such a request at the last minute on the laps of city councillors.

Novoselsky said the matter will be brought to a public hearing rather quickly due to scheduling conflicts – with that hearing taking place next Monday on May 20th.

The matter will be discussed in the Council Ways and Means Committee on June 6th, and will likely come up for a vote on June 10th.

“There are some who have said that maybe we can phase it in over time,” said Novoselsky. “We just saw it five minutes before. This is an ordinance that will also set precedence for people coming in after the current employees.”

Ways and Means Chair Brian Arrigo said he was surprised by the move, and he hopes the salary study will back up the request.

“It was a little surprising, but it was good to hear from the mayor that they had something to back up why they were making the request,” he said. “I look forward to talking about that. It was a little surprising they didn’t do it in the budget. It will be interesting to see where the money is coming from to pay for this and what the comparisons are that they used.”

Arrigo said he might like to explore an amendment to the measure, perhaps tying the salary increases to the cost of living index.

“Rather than come back every 10 years to amend the salary amounts with a large pay raise, it might be better to tie it to the Consumer Price Index so there is a smaller increase every few years rather than a big jump every 10 years,” he said.

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