The Orangetown Board went through many revisions of its Memorializing Resolution regarding the PBA and binding arbitration.
"The main point is to put on the table for all to see the kind of predicament the town and all towns face when doing contract work with a bargaining unit, in this case, the PBA (Patrolmen's Benevolent Association)," Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart said. "Binding arbitration gives the town a choice of paying more money or paying more money in a time when nobody else is getting more money. A lot of people have been stuck at a salary level for a number of years. It's resulting in a situation where there is a different economy associated with municipal labor....it puts us in a tough spot. The way state law guides the arbitration process doesn’t' give us the opportunity to negotiate from a position based on the reality of the situation we face."
The town council is expected to vote soon on a proposed settlement in its negotiation with Orangetown police, possibly within the next two weeks. It may have come to a vote Tuesday, but Councilman Paul Valentine was absent as expected and the board wants to have a full council present for the vote.
The proposed five-year contract would include retroactive 2.25 percent raises for 2011 with Orangetown police seeing a 2.25 percent raise for 2012, 2.35 percent raise for 2013, 2.45 percent raise for 2014 and 2.50 percent raise for 2015. One reason Councilmen Valentine, Denis Troy and Tom Diviny have indicated their support of the settlement is that the alternative seems to be binding arbitration, which would likely leave the town paying for even higher raises.
"Arbitration is not a fair fight," Diviny said. "It is fighting with one hand behind your back. A lot of people say we should fight the PBA and unions and go to arbitration. It's not so easy when Ramapo is giving out (four percent raises) and Clarkstown is giving two and a half. We are trying to get the best deal. WE could go to arbitration and do better, but based on the decisions I have read and what other towns have, it's not a fair fight."
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The resolution passed by a 4-0 vote Tuesday (with Valentine absent) calls for the state to take two actions. One, which had been in the earlier version of the resolution, was to reform the arbitration process.
Another was added later in the day Tuesday. That one called for a change in the state pension system that would have all employees contribute three percent of their salary every year regardless of how long they have been in the job. The state made a change in 1999 so that employees only pay three percent for the first 10 years, then nothing.
Troy explained that at the time, the pension system was "flush" due to the strength of the stock market. The towns were not putting money into the pension system at all at the time. Troy has been critical of the change made in 1999 in the past even though he is a union member who does not have to contribute to the pension fund because of it.
"I'm a union member with the county," Troy said. "I should be paying. Your first 10 years, you may be paid a lot less money and you are paying three percent of whatever that is. But for years 11 to 30 or 25, you pay nothing.
"What happened in the last seven or eight years as the stock market took a beating, the state controller had to keep the pension system whole. It is a mandate in terms of what level it has to be funded. The municipalities were the ones who made up the difference. Right now, this year, we're paying between 18 and 21 percent of whatever we pay in salaries for pensions. It makes no sense to me whatsoever that the taxpayers should be making up the difference to keep the pension system whole when an ill-considered law was passed in 1999 and nobody in the state senate or the state assembly, or the state controller, has seen fit to change it."
Troy argued that the pension system should be the first thing to change to help the towns stay under the state-mandated tax levy cap.
"If (Sen.) David Carlucci (D-Rockland), (Assemblywoman) Ellen Jaffee (D-Suffern) and (Assemblyman) Ken Zebrowski (D-New City) are serious about getting us help here, this is one of the things that should be right at the top of the list," Troy said. "I talked about this when we were doing the two percent cap in December. It's one thing for somebody on Mt. Olympus to say you are going to come in at two percent. That's great. But you have to give us the tools to come in at two percent."
The full resolution before the addition of the paragraph regarding pensions can be found in the copy of the agenda for Tuesday's meeting attached to this report.
Check back with Patch later today for more from Tuesday's Orangetown Town Board meeting.