JAMESTOWN – The Jamestown City Council has voted to appeal the arbitration board ruling that awarded members of the Kendell Club city police union a retroactive 2 percent raise in their contract covering the years 2016 and 2017.
According to the resolution that was acted on Monday night under “new business” and following an executive session prior to the voting session, the city council believes it would be a violation of its fiduciary duty to the citizens of Jamestown to comply with an award that city officials believe violates a recently created arbitration statute that is supposed to weigh the ability for the municipality to pay (Civil Service Law S 209).
According to state law, 70 percent of the arbitration panel’s decision is supposed to be based on the ability to pay by the municipality.
Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi said that given Jamestown’s poor fiscal standing, the council believes this statute didn’t weigh into the arbitration panel’s decision.
“All the parties agreed that the 70 percent weighting factor in the new statute applied to Jamestown because of Jamestown’s fiscal condition. The statute says that with qualifying financially distressed municipalities, the decision needs to be weighted at a factor of 70 percent on the ability to pay issue,” Teresi said following Monday’s vote.
According to the mayor, the cost of the award would be about $400,000 for the city in 2018 alone, with more than that also expected in the 2019 budget, not only because of the police union raises but because the city’s firefighters union would also see similar raises because those two city employee groups have very similar contracts.
“Bottom line, the city can’t afford it,” Teresi said. “We can’t raise property taxes to pay for an expensive, outlandish award like this. We can’t rely upon other sources of revenue to come in and cover a gap of that amount. And furthermore, the way that it’s going to elevate the base moving forth with future contract negotiations, we simply can’t afford that either.”
The Council passed two resolutions. One to appeal the decision and the second to hire Bond, Schoeneck & King for legal services not to exceed $25,000. Both passed 7 to 1 with City Councilman Andrew Liuzzo voting no on both. Bond, Schoeneck & King has already been retained by the city Board of Public Utilities to handle its property annexation case with the Town of Ellicott / Village of Falconer.
The matter will now have to be litigated in State Supreme Court in Mayville and there is no timeline available for how long the process will take to play out.
“We’re in a little bit of uncharted waters here because the statute is new relatively new and this is the first test on what the statue means by ’70 percent weighting factor on ability to pay by fiscally distressed communities,” Teresi said.