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January 10, 2013

City Council tax rate higher than in mayor's budget

PLATTSBURGH — City of Plattsburgh councilors will vote Thursday night on the 2013 budget, which features a 5.2 percent tax-levy hike that in large part will fund retroactive firefighter pay.

That’s 3.3 percent more than the 1.9 percent that Mayor Donald Kasprzak proposed in his own budget plan, which was presented to the Common Council last Oct. 1. 

Mayor Pro Tem and Budget Officer James Calnon said the bulk of the increase stems from a contract settlement the city must pay to city firefighters. Late last year — after the mayor presented his own plan — an arbitrator awarded raises of 2.9 and 3 percent in retroactive pay for, respectively, 2008 and 2009.

The award amounts to more than $600,000, with $285,700 of it in the 2013 budget. Overall, the city’s tax levy will be up $303,508 for 2013, with the 5.2 percent rise the maximum allowed under the state tax cap.

“About 94 percent of the tax-levy increase is because of this arbitration award,” Calnon said.

“I don’t understand how an arbitrator can give out raises that are about double what the tax cap lets us raise in revenue.”

‘NOBODY’S FAULT’

Plattsburgh Permanent Firemen’s Association President Terry Feazelle said it was the city that chose to go to arbitration.

“What we offered would have been better for the city than what the arbitrator awarded, but the city turned us down,” he said.

“It’s not our fault.”

The State of New York Public Employment Relations Board opinion and award states, in part: “Although there are some exceptions, Plattsburgh firefighters, at all ranks and longevity steps, earn far less than their counterparts in the cities identified by both parties as comparables; and, as the (Plattsburgh Firemen’s) Association argues, they are seriously underpaid in comparison to the city’s police force.

“The 5 percent increases the association seeks would not close these gaps, but given the chair’s finding that the city is in relatively healthy financial condition, an increase that would make firefighter salaries somewhat more competitive is in order.”

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