Kingston mayor embroiled in pay raise controversy

Last Thursday, December 2, there was no heat on in the Kingston Common Council chambers. For four hours the members of the Finance and Audit Committee kept warm wrestling with the mayor’s 2022 budget recommendations.

City comptroller John Tuey pegs the total of the coming year’s projected operating budget at $46,721,659. That’s about 2.8 percent of taxable value.

The revenue portion of that, $26.63 million, will be raised though tax and levy, charge, fine and fee. The remaining revenue, around $20 million, will come from federal and state grants. The enormous cash infusion which grants provide has played no small part in aiding mayor Steve Noble’s efforts to keep property taxes flat for the past six years.

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The most contentious issue arose when the committee began to grapple with the proposed across-the-board raises for all employees who are members of the CSEA (Civil Service Employees Association). The CSEA contract with the City of Kingston expired on December 31, 2019.

On his own, the mayor proposed to deliver an across-the-board pay raise to the president of the CSEA, directly inside the new budget. It was done after the previous contract had expired and before negotiations between the union and the city could begin anew. Majority leader Rennie Scott-Childress had asked Noble about this proposal at a Finance Committee meeting on November 16.

“And so just to be clear what I’ve proposed in my budget for salaries is just a discussion that I’ve had with CSEA leadership,” said Noble, “to make sure that I was, you know, gonna get support by putting in higher values here, but I did not, and we have not yet had a CSEA negotiation to ratify these proposed raises.”

“But wasn’t there some kind of negotiation with CSEA to come up with this change in the whole step program?” asked Scott-Childress.

“No, there’s not been a negotiation yet,” responded Noble.

“So you did this all by yourself?” persisted Scott-Childress

“I did. I proposed this concept to CSEA and they agreed that they would get behind it.”

The budgeted raises to CSEA members amount to 11.5 percent.

Management raises triggered

Should the raise go uncontested by the committee, raises of commensurate value will be triggered for city hires among the management classification, as stipulated in the Kingston Management Personnel Manual. If a CSEA employee receives a raise of 11.5 percent out of his or her salary of $30,000, that employee would expect to see $3450 extra in their annual pay.

Should a management-level employee receive the commensurate percentage increase, but applied to their management level salary of, say $60,000, their raise would amount to $3450 more than the CSEA employee, or $6900.

The mayor has already targeted generous raises to select employees holding management classifications.

Using as an example now, a proposed raise of $4494 from the mayor’s recommended budget for the director of communications, Summer Smith, Smith will see her salary jump from $48,006 in 2021 to $52,500 in 2022.

When and if the flat percentage which the mayor has offered to the CSEA employees is accepted in the course of regular negotiations, the percentage of increase to the CSEA employees’ salary will also apply to the $52,500 salary of the director, yielding another $6,037. All told, the director of communications stands to gain $10,531.00 over last years salary.

No metrics available

There was no paper record kept of any management-level performance reviews ever conducted by the chief executive of the city, annual or otherwise. There does not exist a metric the committee can rely upon to judge the merits in a given raise.

The feeling among council members on this December night was that the mayor might have delivered the Finance and Audit Committee a poisoned pill in his recommended budget, daring them to reject his extralegal munificence and so appear unsupportive to the CSEA employees who had been told to expect a raise. Or adopt his budget and be party to extraordinary rewards to some in the management caste.

Various solutions were proposed of such complex legal ramifications that the cameras were shut off and the audio muted so that the committee could confer with the new corporate counsel, Barbara Groves Poller. Twice. Once for as long as 20 minutes.

Many thoughts regarding this issue are on the record, however. Let the alderpersons  speak in their own words. The council will gather in its chambers this Wednesday night some time after 6.30 p.m.

If the mayor doesn’t like the result, he can veto it.


Seven council members express discontent about pay for city workers

Rennie Scott-Childress, Ward 3:
The 11.5 percent across-the-board increase has the advantage of being in one sense equitable. Everybody gets the same rate. On the other hand it means the actual take-home would be higher for people at the top of the current pay scale than people at the bottom, when what we’re actually trying to do is raise up the people at the bottom the most. 
This was a plan that was created by the mayor in consultation with the president of the CSEA Union. There are a number of issues. Some people got significant increases. Some got no pay increases.
I’ve now spoken with many department heads. I keep hearing phrases like we feel duped, we feel slapped in the face.

There’s a real strong sense among quite a number of department heads that these proposed increases for some people are arbitrary and capricious.

Rita Worthington, Ward 4
All of our workers deserve a raise. Absolutely 100 percent We just need to figure out what that raise will be, and how we’re going to satisfy all of our city workers.

Don Tallerman, Ward 5
If what he’s [comptroller Tuey] described is true, that these negotiations can take years, then that is terrible. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but you can’t leave these people hanging. DPW is losing people, what about, I don’t know. If we don’t pay our people, our city, you know, everyone’s hurt! I just think it’s criminal that those who have to work so hard have to take less money.

Tony Davis, Ward 6:
“These CSEA, these men and women, have to have salary increases, They’re the lowest-paid of our employees, and they’re out there in all different kinds of weathers doing some of the jobs many people don’t want to do. We have to all stand behind them and support them that they need to get more money. I just want that to be known for negotiations. They have to get increases where they can afford still to live in Kingston and have a decent salary. That’s why I wanted to speak, make sure I’m on the record.

Pat O’Reilly, Ward 7  
I’ve got a problem, What the CSEA had negotiated [in 2016] hasn’t kept up with inflation. So now we got a problem which is these people are now underpaid. They didn’t get enough in their contracts, they didn’t get enough money to keep up with inflation, so now we can’t hire anybody because our jobs aren’t paying enough. 
We’re not getting qualified workers, we’re not getting people that even apply for the jobs. We got people that are actually leaving the city workforce to go elsewhere because we haven’t kept up with, we haven’t paid them enough basically. We need to do something for these people, you know, give them a living wage.

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Steve Shabot, Ward 8
I have to agree, I think a lot of these raises were handed out arbitrarily. “Some people have gotten….” “What I would….” [Schabot stoped talking and laughed while trying to choose his words.]  I mean, substantial is the only thing I can say. 
I don’t know we can go through position by position because we have no idea what their performance is like because there is nothing on record for us to even look at. I don’t begrudge the people who got large raises – 30 percent raises — as much as I really hate the fact that hardworking people came away with zip. That’s really what bothered me. That really sucks.

Michele Hirsch, Ward 9
We shouldn’t be part of this. I feet that the council should not be part of the bargaining process regarding personnel contract issues. I feel most comfortable putting the money in Contigency until all the points are clarified. 
If we didn’t go with these suggestions, but a figure for all of management confidential based on a possible number coming out of CSEA contract negotiations? That then could be put in contingency for across-the-board raises. I just would like to say I fully support all of our CSEA staff getting raises through the contract negotiations, and I’m happy that we’re putting money into the contingency, and look forward to that happening, and happening as quickly as possible.

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