Supervisors hear charges of "coercion" over pay-raise reductions

QUEENSBURY Accused Friday of using coercive methods to cut scheduled pay increases for county department chiefs, Warren County supervisors debated whether their actions were appropriate. Board of Supervisors Chairman Fred Monroe and Warren County Public Defender John Wappett both labeled the actions of budget committee members Oct. 31 as coercive and inappropriate. Last week, the Board of Supervisors Budget Committee decided that only the lowest non-union county workers should receive the promised 3.5 percent increase, and those earning more would receive less, depending on their annual pay. After mentioning the potential need for layoffs due to poor economic conditions, the committee asked department heads for a show of hands vote as to who would accept receiving a significantly lower raise than they were previously promised. Eventually, approximately two-thirds of the department heads raised their hands, but Monroe and Wappett argue that this was due to the numerous supervisor comments regarding layoffs and position eliminations. I gave up my raise to save the jobs of my people, Wappett said. These tactics represent nothing short of coercion. Monroe echoed Wappetts concerns. This was not proper, Monroe said. This board does have the right to decide pay raises, but not by putting people on the spot in a public meeting. CSEA Union Spokesman John Premo addressed the board, stating the actions taken by the budget committee represented a sounding of the trumpet of retreat instead of a proactive solution to budgetary problems. The tone set last week was like a bully on a playground, Premo said. The amount that the tiered system actually saves isnt enough to substantively impact the budget anyways this budget should be voted down. The budget is subject to a vote Nov. 21 of the full board of supervisors Nov. 21 According to Budget Officer Kevin Geraghty, the tiered pay-raise system saves the county approximately $46,000. Premo said that the department heads were disillusioned by the tone coming from the budget committee and this emotion will filter down throughout the workforce. In response to these accusations, supervisors noted that during the Oct. 31 meeting, several department heads had addressed the committee, stating that they would sacrifice their pay-raises in order to save the jobs of their workers. I dont believe anyones feet were held to the fire, said Queensbury Supervisor-at-large William VanNess. Budget committee member and Glens Falls Ward Supervisor Mike OConnor, who had initially requested the show of hands, said that the approach was simply informational in nature and not intended as a referendum. What this board did was symbolic and appropriate, said Johnsburg Supervisor Sterling Goodspeed. Times are rough and require a multidimensional approach- I will play that trumpet, referencing Premos earlier comments. Goodspeed said that the county should begin looking into a class action lawsuit against the state seeking monies for unfunded mandates and previously promised state aid for projects like the highway washout two years ago which has cost the county $1 million. After the debate was heard Nov. 7, the supervisors passed the tentative budget, which features a 4.11 percent increase in amount to be raised by taxes. Queensbury Supervisor Dan Stec represented the only nay vote. However, several supervisors suggested that the tiered pay-raise system should be excluded from the final version. We are just trying to get to a point where we dont have to consider layoffs, OConnor said. I recognize that the employees are the lifeblood of the county. Geraghty said that the tentative budget can still be altered after adoption. The final budget vote is set for Nov. 21.

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