Now that the Ogdensburg City government has begun preparation of the 2022 Annual Budget, Mayor Jeffrey M. Skelly is requesting the City Manager provide recommendations to the full City Council on how to make drastic changes to the City Employee Pay and Healthcare Contributions Program.
Mr. Skelly states that some employee groups make vastly more money than others, and the lower paid employees are forced to pay more for healthcare. ”My administration will not allow the significant pay disparity that has existed for many years between employee groups to continue; it is just not fair and equitable in any way, shape or form.” Mr. Skelly said past city councils, (including current Councilors Michael Powers, Dan Skamperle and Nicole Kennedy) knowingly condoned the irresponsible practice of the city manager bargaining individually with employee unions for pay and healthcare contributions without considering the impact to the entire city workforce.
Mayor Skelly cited a white paper (click here to view) provided by City Manager Stephen Jellie last April as verifiable documentation that a serious disparity exists in how city employees are compensated. Mr. Skelly stated that in some cases the gap in pay between city employees at the same organizational level of responsibility is as high as 39% and only drops to a low of 11% from those being paid the most. “It is no secret that members of the 2019 city council sought to tie the hands of the newly elected 2020 city council by approving the unaffordable raises and employee perks contained in the police and fire union contracts. Unfortunately, in their rush to ratify those contracts before the new council assumed office they furthered the divide in employee take home pay and forced most all employees to contribute 20% toward healthcare while allowing members of the fire department to remain as low as 6%”. According to the information provided by Mr. Skelly, all bargaining units in the city agreed to increase the employee contribution toward healthcare to 20% for most employees, yet fire department employees only pay an average 7% . Prior to the fire department union agreeing to the current employee healthcare contributions, their contribution was 0% or 100% paid by the city.
Since taking office, Mayor Skelly and the majority members of city council have made the hard decisions required to restore balanced funding to all city departments and programs despite fierce opposition from supporters of singular city departments and unions. A significant reduction in personnel was required in the 2020 Annual Budget to stabilize the city’s finances and prevent the city from seriously considering filing for bankruptcy. In 2022 another personnel reduction will be necessary to match the potential loss of sales tax revenue as a result of the final decision by the St. Lawrence County Legislature, led by Kevin Acres and Joe Lightfoot, to reduce Ogdensburg’s sale tax distribution by 50% or $2M. “Hard decisions do not get easier with time and avoiding them only makes the problems harder to solve. My administration is taking on the hard decisions, making progress and doing what is right for the entire city. We will not be intimidated and we will not change course to appease a small group of individuals that attempt to disrupt every positive change and proactive initiative”.
Mr. Skelly will formally seek to convince the entire city council to support the recommendations and reforms needed to bring about change to this very important matter during budget deliberations in October. His goal will be to close the pay gap by at least 6% in 2022, and equalize the employee contribution rate toward healthcare over two years. “I look forward to all members of city council working collectively on this proposal so that we can honestly state that the city is committed to our dedicated workforce, compensates all employees fairly and ensures equal access to affordable healthcare at the lowest cost to taxpayers possible”.
The proposal to overhaul the “City Employee Pay and Healthcare Contribution Program” is the third initiative Mayor Skelly intends to propose and solve during the 2022 Annual City Budget. Last week, Mayor Skelly announced a “Bold New Vision for a Regional Recreation Facility” to be built in the City of Ogdensburg as part of the city’s efforts to win the 2021 Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) that could bring as much as $20MM in state grant funding to the city. Two weeks ago the Mayor announced he would seek an additional “10% City Property Tax Rate Cut” in 2022, bringing the total tax relief cut to 20% since taking office.