Plattsburgh Councilors Clash Over Manager Benefit Proposal

Nov 27, 2018

The Plattsburgh Common Council is revising the city’s departmental managerial compensation package to attract and keep personnel while at the same time dealing with fiscal constraints.  At the most recent meeting, there was considerable disagreement between councilors over data presented to justify some proposed changes.

A city council subcommittee consisting of Ward 1 Democrat Rachelle Armstrong, Ward 3 Republican Dale Dowdle and Ward 4 Independent Peter Ensel has been crafting a new Management Compensation Package.  The current draft would affect all managers except those in the fire and police departments, the current building inspector and individuals with Level 1 agreements.  Level 1 employees are grandfathered to benefit changes made in 1990.

It covers vacations and other leaves, holidays, mileage compensation, retirement and health insurance, salary and other benefits. At their most recent meeting councilors reviewed the plan as it came up for approval.  

During the Public Safety Committee meeting prior to their work and regular sessions Ward 2 Democrat Mike Kelly, the council’s budget officer, presented a spreadsheet comparing Plattsburgh’s managerial salaries and benefits to other communities. Armstrong argued his data doesn’t reflect work that’s actually being done.  “I believe that with the increase of workload as a result of restructuring that it’s more than fair to compensate for whatever duties have been increased.”

Kelly defended his data despite Armstrong and Councilor Dowdle questioning its validity.
Kelly: “All I’m saying is that every other city on that list is getting a much better deal than we are.”
Armstrong: “ We don’t know that. I don’t think that chart shows that at all.”
Kelly:  “You ever go to Watertown? They got streets. They got water.”
Armstrong:  “I think that’s an oversimplification.”
Dowdle:  “We’ve seen this chart before or one very similar to it the night that we abolished the engineering department. We also saw figures on building inspector. Well I looked at Cortland when that was put up. Cortland issued 2 new housing permits for the whole year. That year I think we issued 36. So the work level is different. I also recall when we heard community developer and I was told by you Councilor Kelly well maybe ours is going to do more work than the other ones around the state. So that’s applicable to this chart as well then.”

The argument continued into the subsequent work session as Kelly asked his fellow councilors to consider the financial implications of the new management package. “Think about what you’re doing to the taxpayers.”
Armstrong:  “I don’t really believe that you’ve proven that this would have as dramatic an impact on the taxpayers. I think that Chamberlain Marks sufficiently rebutted your point and I just really don’t feel it’s necessary for you to keep pushing that point that I don’t think you’ve proven.”

During the regular session the resolution to pass the Management Compensation Package was tabled on a 4 to 2 vote.  But the debate wasn’t over as the next item on the agenda was a proposal from Mayor Colin Read offering a similar management compensation proposal, which irked Councilors Ensel and Armstrong.
Read: “One of my goals was to also make sure that our managers have no less a package of benefits than is common for managers in state and local government elsewhere.”
Ensel: “Correct me if I’m wrong Councilor Armstrong I kind of felt that the introduction of this kind of subverted the work of the committee that we are working on to work on a management compensation package.”
Armstrong:  “Yeah I felt similarly and in effect that it was discrediting our work.”

The proposal offered by the mayor failed on a vote of 5 to 1.