Lackawanna City Council members unwittingly gave pay raises to city division and department heads when they approved a new contract for police officers last month.
And they are not happy about it.
Council members said they were not aware that a city ordinance adopted in 2009 links pay raises for patrol officers to corresponding wage increases for non-bargaining employees – who hold about a dozen of the city’s highest-paying jobs.
The department and division heads will also receive four years of back pay.
“Not only is that not in the police contract, but not one department head told us that. We voted on that, and we had no idea,” said 3rd Ward Councilman Joseph Jerge.
Fourth Ward Councilman Keith E. Lewis said he was “blown away” to learn about the side arrangement, which was crafted when Norman Polanski Jr. served as mayor and current Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski represented the 2nd Ward as councilman.
None of the five current Council members served on the Council when the ordinance passed in 2009.
The tag-along provision “makes zero sense,” said Council President Henry R. Pirowski Jr.
Council members said they will try to rescind the 2009 ordinance linking raises for department heads to pay hikes for patrol officers.
Pirowski questioned City Attorney Antonio Savaglio about the linkage of pay raises during a Council meeting earlier this week.
Savaglio negotiated the contract for the city. Police officers gained raises of 2.75 percent in each of the first two years of the contract and 3 percent raises in the third and fourth years.
Savaglio benefited from the deal, too: As head of the city’s Law Department, he will gain the same percentage increases, as stipulated by the 2009 ordinance. He stands to earn an additional $8,462 in raises and back pay in the first year, on top of his budgeted salary of $75,311.
Pirowski asked Savaglio whether he had a conflict of interest. “I don’t believe so,” Savaglio replied, “because I’m only doing it per the statute.”
After further questioning, Savaglio acknowledged, “Is it ideal? Probably not.”
Council members voted 4-1 on May 20 to approve the four-year deal covering 46 members of the Lackawanna Police Benevolent Association. The deal runs from this year through 2016.
The deal also includes retroactive raises of 2 percent for each of the past four years; those raises are expected to cost taxpayers about $700,000.
Some Council members expressed frustration at the May 20 meeting at being asked to vote on the contract without more details about its impact on the budget.
Lewis urged fellow lawmakers to delay the vote so they could examine it more closely. The Council chambers was full of police officers, and a Democratic committee endorsement meeting was scheduled for later that evening. The vote went ahead, with Lewis casting the lone vote against the contract.
Council members’ frustration with Szymanski and many of his department heads has grown since the contract vote. “It’s been very difficult getting information,” Lewis said.
The City Comptroller’s Office interpreted the 2009 ordinance as requiring a pay raise for the mayor, too.
But Pirowski and Lewis said the city charter includes a provision prohibiting a sitting mayor from increasing the mayoral salary while in office.
Savaglio acknowledged the provision and agreed that the mayor is not eligible for the raise.
Still, several of the city’s highest-paid officials will receive raises, as well as back pay, because of the deal with police officers.
Had he known that information earlier, Jerge said he might have voted differently.
The city also approved a new contract with pay hikes for about 20 clerical workers in City Hall.
Savaglio is still in negotiations with two other bargaining units: firefighters and public works employees.
Szymanski has said the city set aside $1.2 million in past budgets to cover the costs of back pay for all of the departments.
But during a recent budget work session, City Comptroller Robert Marciniak said that if the outstanding contract talks result in similar deals, the city could go broke within a few years, according to several Council members.
“It’s not this year I’m concerned about,” Jerge said. “It’s next year and the year after that, that are going to be really bad. There’s no additional revenue coming in.”