Times are tough and the financial forecast doesn't look good. As budget work sessions get under way in the village, trustees are looking at ways to trim the fat. They are urging all department heads to take a hard look at their requests and cut back wherever necessary.
If certain items can wait, they should, Deputy Mayor Tom Lamberti argued. He questioned the need to spend $10,000 on village tree plantings during a financial crisis and was glad to see two items on the Feb. 5 agenda deferred. The items referred to the expenditure of $3,800 to send employees to an International Code Council Forum in March and the American Water Works New York Section Spring Meeting in April.
"It's important for staff to attend conferences but we need to watch every expenditure," Lamberti said. "I'm glad to see them deferred."
He also opposed ratifying the retroactive contract agreement the village currently has with the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) and was willing to take a chance in letting negotiations go to binding arbitration. His argument fell on deaf ears though because trustees eventually voted 7-1 to ratify the retroactive agreement.
"I understand this contract is comparative to what other villages have paid but this is a different world today," Deputy Mayor Lamberti said. "This is the wrong contract at the wrong time for the residents of this village."
The contract calls for a little more than a 4 percent increase. "It's wrong to adopt this contract and then say to the unions that we need it back," the labor attorney argued. There are three to four months left on this current contract before the village begins negotiating a new one.
Finance Chair and Deputy Mayor John Mauk said going to binding arbitration could get the village a lower percentage increase, noting though that it could also result in a higher percentage. "We could roll the dice but it would be far better to take the settlement and save the battle for the next budget coming up," he said. The ratified retroactive police contract dates back two years. A new police contract is effective as of July 2009. This contract has not yet been negotiated.
Mayor Peter Bee, also a labor attorney, said there's risk in both directions. "Certainly, the world has changed and hopefully arbitrators will recognize that. An arbitrator might be tempted to look at comparable time periods," he said.
When comparing village police salaries with Nassau County, Garden City is in the middle of the pack in terms of salary and benefits, Village Counsel Gary Fishberg noted. For example, as of July 2006, Fishberg said, the average salary, including longevity and night differential, for a county police officer was $109,658 while the average salary, including longevity and night differential, for a Garden City police officer was $105,318, at least $4,000 less.
Lamberti argued that a New York City police officer at senior grade - working six to seven years - earns $73,546 while a Garden City police officer earns $105,485, an approximate $32,000 disparity. "That's the reality of the labor negotiations..." Lamberti said.
Fishberg said however that Garden City police officers earn $34,000 while those coming from the police academy to work in Garden City earn $43,000. He added that arbitrators uniformly refuse to consider working in New York City comparable to other villages. "The Garden City contract is a very fair contract," Fishberg said.
In 2007 fiscal year, 17 police contracts were negotiated (16 villages and one county). Sixteen were settled; one settled for a less than 4 percent salary increase, three settled for a more than 4 percent salary increase and the remaining settled at a 4 percent salary increase.
In 2008, 13 out of the 17 jurisdictions have settled already. Of those, one settled for below 4 percent and five settled for above 4 percent.
Trustee Donald Brudie, who represents Central, believes the village could contain costs if all capital expenditures are removed from the budget.
"This is already an incurred debt with the police department ... No arbitrator is going to let us off the hook." Brudie said, adding, "There is no free lunch in life. If anyone thinks there is they are kidding themselves."
Trustee John Watras criticized unfunded mandates, like the village's required alcohol and drug testing at a cost of $10,000. "If you add up all the unfunded mandates, it must be staggering," Trustee Watras said.
Trustees renewed an agreement the village has with Adelphi University for use of the parking field at Community Park. Although the village has had such an agreement with Adelphi for years, Trustee Lamberti looked at this as an opportunity to bring in revenue. "We are allowing public property for private use," he argued. "We need to seek appropriate revenues because taxpayers, at the end of the day, have to make up the difference."
Deputy Mayor Mauk, however, disagreed. "Asking for a fee for something that benefits us and Adelphi is not the way to go," he said. Garden City residents living in the vicinity of the university would prefer students using the parking field at Community Park rather than causing traffic jams on their residential streets, particularly Brompton Road.
Village Administrator Robert Schoelle is arranging a meeting with Adelphi President Dr. Robert Scott to discuss the issue.
Department heads have a tough task ahead of them - convincing trustees that their requests are needed and needed now. They will make presentations Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. at the library as part of the village's five-year capital plan.