The Telegram
  • PBA letter surprises Herkimer officials

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  • HERKIMER — The Charles W. Soule Police Benevolent Association is objecting to the removal of two vacant police positions, according to a letter from the union that was recently published in local print media.
    The Herkimer village board, at a meeting Monday, considered a resolution to authorize the village clerk to publish the police officers’ pay in the newspaper. It was noted the information is public and anyone can obtain it by filing a request under the Freedom of Information Act. The board tabled the matter, but may consider it again at an upcoming meeting.
    The PBA is currently involved in negotiations with the village for a new contract to replace the one that expired June 1, 2013. The agreement that expired last June “was a one-year contract in which the PBA agreed to the temporary suspension of five separate benefits provided to them under the preceding collective bargaining agreement and took a zero percent pay increase, all to assist the village through difficult financial times,” PBA President Jonathan Reska stated in the letter. “Those temporary suspensions have now expired and those benefits are once again in effect.”
    He said the union is negotiating for a contract from June 1, 2013, forward.
    Reska states under the collective bargaining agreement, the Herkimer Police Department is to consist of at least 20 full-time Municipal Police Training Council-trained and certified police officers.
    “Nevertheless, at a recent negotiating meeting between the village and PBA, the village’s negotiating committee reported that the village has unilaterally removed two vacant police officer’s positions (resulting from normal attrition and not yet replaced) from the 2013-14 budget due to alleged financial difficulties being experienced by the village,” he says in the letter.
    Despite these financial hardships, he said, during the past six months the village board filled two vacancies resulting from retirements in the CSEA immediately following retirements, a vacancy in the Herkimer Fire Department following a retirement and hired a temporary employee for several months.
    His letter notes the village accepted a grant for a beautification project that requires the village to contribute 20 percent of the cost.
    “Although the union believes the grant should be warmly accepted, the allocation of approximately $164,000 out of the village budget to ‘beautify’ a single street causes concern by the Herkimer PBA when the budget reflects the failure to properly finance a department responsible for public safety,” Reska states.
    He said the PBA has made several suggestions to the village board to reduce expenses or generate additional revenue. These include establishing a municipal ambulance, similar to those in Ilion, Little Falls and Utica, and consolidating the codes enforcement officers into the fire department. Reska stated the village could also hire a clerk rather than having those duties carried out by a deputy clerk who “gets paid overtime to perform functions that the clerk would be required to perform within her regular salary.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Reska says the PBA “objects to the village’s attempt to resolve its financial problems solely on the backs of its police department and while violating its contractual staffing commitment in the process.”
    Herkimer Mayor Mark Ainsworth said the letter from the union was totally unexpected. He and Trustee Harold Stoffolano, as the negotiating team for the village, had met with the team for the union a couple of times since negotiations got under way.
    He said the union submitted a proposal, which he shared with the village board during an executive session Monday evening.
    As to one of the suggestions in the letter, Ainsworth said Amanda Viscomi is performing the clerk/treasurer’s duties and the duties she had previously performed as deputy clerk.
    “If we hired another person, it would certainly cost more than we’re paying now,” he said. “The overtime she is paid for the village board meetings is not a lot compared to what other employees in the village are getting.”
    He said the office staff is smaller than it was five years ago.
    “We’re requiring our staff to do more with less,” said Ainsworth.
    As for the possibility of having a municipal ambulance, he said, “We would have to look into that and project what the cost would be.”
    Startup costs would include filing for a certificate, which could amount to some $10,000, he said. Then there is training 14 or 16 personnel and purchasing an ambulance.
    “We’re going to examine it,” he said, “but I don’t know if the village can afford the initial outlay. And it would have to be negotiated with the fire department’s union.”
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