In My Opinion

February 3, 2012

In My Opinion: Behind the city lockbox program

AFSCME Local 788 has received the opinion and award of Arbitrator Kenneth J. Toomey denying the union's grievance of the city's Financial Lockbox, by which residents' water, sewer and trash payments can be routed to a Glens Falls National Bank subcontractor in Hicksville, Long Island.

Previously, all payments were made through the City Chamberlain's Office, where they were received and processed by City of Plattsburgh employees.

While Local 788 believes that Arbitrator Toomey's decision is both wrong and at odds with three prior arbitration awards by three well-respected arbitrators, handed down over the past 35 years, the union does not intend to challenge the opinion and award in court.

The laws of the state of New York make clear that labor arbitration awards are intended to be "final and binding;" the grounds on which they can be overturned in court are very limited.

The arbitration hearing did reveal information that should be of interest to the Common Council and all city residents who pay those fees:

▶ Glens Falls Bank charges 40 cents per envelope to process each payment.

▶ Many payments — over 25 percent of the monies collected — are rejected by the bank's system for any number of reasons, many of them being no more than typographical errors. Data was foiled and analyzed from Sept. 9, 2010 to Jan. 7. 2011. Each day, city employees in the City Chamberlain's Office are then required to research the problems and make the corrections. The city is not reimbursed by Glen Falls Bank for the time spent by its employees on such work — Glens Falls National Bank is paid its fee no matter what.

▶ The overall value of the Financial Lock-Box contract to the city is highly questionable. With the Financial Lockbox contract having been in operation for more than 12 months, only 25 percent of the city's residents who pay their billings mail them in to Hicksville. What are the exact costs for this service?

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