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Time to Pay

The Albany Common Council embraces freshman member’s plan to collect contributions from nonprofits for their use of city services

The Albany Common Council passed legislation Monday to address increasing budget deficits by reassessing the financial contributions of nonprofit entities that make broad use of city services. The ordinance, introduced by Frank Commisso Jr. (Ward 15), was not only unanimously passed but, in a rare consensus, was also co-sponsored by all 14 other council members.

The new ordinance amends Chapter 42 (Departments and Commissions) of the City Code and allows for the creation of a new entity entitled the City of Albany Commission on Public-Private Budgetary Cooperation. The new commission will be charged with reviewing the “fiscal impact of tax-exempt entities on the city’s tax base,” and with making recommendations “regarding financial contributions to be made by tax-exempt entities in support of essential city services.”

The reasons given by the council are clear. Reduced sales-tax revenues, cuts in state aid, increasing pension payments and the rising costs of health insurance for city employees are making it increasingly difficult for the city to afford to run basic municipal services.

Budget cuts would almost definitely result in decreased police and fire protection, “making budget cuts to personnel extraordinarily painful,” the legislation reads. Moreover, “fully fifty-three percent of the assessed valuation of all real property in the city is tax-exempt, thereby increasing the real property tax burden on homeowners, renters and commercial property owners.”

“The City of Albany has a commitment to ensuring its neighborhoods are safe, stable and thriving by making critical improvements and investments and providing reliable essential municipal services including, but not limited to, police protection, fire protection, EMS services, street and highway construction, maintenance and lighting, snow removal, sanitation (inclusive of trash collection, disposal and recycling), and water and sewer services. These exempt entities and taxpayers alike benefit in substantially equal manner from these essential services, yet these exempt entities do not contribute to the costs for these services.”

For these reasons, the City of Albany is taking a cue from other cities that are already receiving support from their local schools and hospitals. According to Commisso, Boston, Providence, Pittsburgh and even Troy are currently receiving voluntary contributions from their larger tax-exempt entities.

“It’s not a huge part of their budget,” he said. “But to get some voluntary contribution from the tax-exempt entities like Albany Medical would help.”

Commisso acknowledged the possibility that such entities could refuse to make any contributions and said that, in that event, they may look to the state to change current statutes in order to make it possible to compel contributions to offset budget imbalances. “I think that the city of Albany needs to sit down with Albany Medical Center, St. Peter’s, Saint Rose, and say, ‘Look, we need some help here,’ and see what type of response we get.”

Legislation is already being considered at the state level, according to Commisso, but would be “revenue neutral” for Albany as it is intended to ameliorate reductions in state aid.

Made up of 11 members appointed by the council and Mayor Jennings, the commission will include at least four representatives of the interests of the tax-exempt entities, one of whom will sit as co-chairperson. Appointees are expected to be “authorities in fiscal budgetary issues,” and “knowledgeable of efforts by other municipalities to successfully engage exempt entities in their jurisdictions in making financial and other contributions in support of their jurisdiction’s budget.” Members of the commission will not be paid, and the commission will be dissolved six months after submitting a final report to the mayor and council.

Commisso expects that the whole process will take about eight months. The commission must submit a preliminary report 120 days after all appointments are made and the final report 120 days after that. The commission is expected to ascertain the costs of providing municipal services to the exempt entities, learn how other select cities have effected similar changes, develop a standard for valuing contributions, make recommendations and find other ways to “mitigate the impact of exempt entities on the city’s tax base.”

—Ali Hibbs


Extra, Extra!

The Captial Region’s largest daily going to court over last year’s controversial layoffs

Last week, members of the Albany Newspaper Guild started attending meetings with the National Labor Relations Board to prepare for their hearing against the region’s largest daily, the Times Union.

In September, the guild filed charges against the TU’s parent company, the Hearst Corporation, for executing layoffs without holding good-faith negotiations. After an investigation performed by the NLRB, a trial date has been set for May 17.

According to Tim O’Brien, TU reporter and president of the guild, the company was in the middle of discussing criteria for these layoffs last July, when managers walked 12 employees out of the building, with no notice or clearly presented criteria.

“The Times Union walked out whoever they wanted,” said O’Brien. “But it’s not who they selected; it’s how they went about it.”

“The guild has a tendency to be economical with the truth and the way that they communicate these things,” said George Hearst III, publisher of the TU. “They characterize us as being without regard to human dignity about how these individuals were notified of their pending status for job elimination. They had us taking people out with security guards, telling them their jobs are ending—none of that happened.”

Either way, due to the lack of criteria presented to employees, the NLRB has issued the guild’s complaint, accusing the TU of being in violation of Section 8 of the National Labor Relations Act, which states, “It shall be an unfair labor practice for an employer to refuse to bargain collectively with the representatives of his employees.”

The question of whether or not the layoff criteria were lawfully bargained remains under some debate. According to Hearst, the newspaper’s management had proposed criteria and was waiting for a counterproposal from the guild for several weeks before declaring an impasse on these negotiations.

“Their lack of willingness to give us a proposal led to the ultimate act,” said Hearst, “and that was to basically move forward. The guild, to this day, has not given us a proposal. We can’t wait forever on these things; we have to run the business.”

According to O’Brien, the negotiations transpired differently.

“We did give them a counterproposal,” he said. “The last thing we gave them was a counterproposal, and instead of getting back to us, they declared the talks over.”

The proposals in question had to do with using seniority to determine which employees were laid off. The guild expressed its desire to uphold seniority, and though Hearst said he had planned to consider seniority, he did not want it to be the sole determinant.

“From our point of view, when you have to run a business in this multimedia world, you need the best talent you can put on the field,” said Hearst. “So we gave criteria to the union for consideration that addressed all the other elements you’d have to consider. And we kept asking, give us a proposal. If you don’t like our proposal, give us something to consider.”

O’Brien claims to have conceded to these terms with the counterproposal that suggested an allowance to ignore seniority if a more recently hired employee seems to possess special skills or training.

“For [Hearst] to say we didn’t make counterproposals,” said O’Brien, “is just not true.”

According to O’Brien, “the Times Union is top-heavy with management,” yet very few employees in management were laid off, and the ones that were eliminated were immediately replaced by a lower-ranking employee so, “while it was a loss of people, it wasn’t a loss of positions.”

By way of this trial, the NLRB is requesting that Hearst retract the layoffs, and bargain in good faith until an agreement in regards to criteria is reached. In doing so, the company will be required to reimburse back pay, with interest—a process that’s raised concern regarding the reduced staff, who will have to make up for the company’s losses themselves.

As Hearst awaits the trial, he maintains his corporation’s innocence.

“We’re feeling that we’re on solid ground,” he said. “We’ve followed procedural requirements making sure we acted in good faith. They’re charging we didn’t, and we’ll let others take a view as to what the balance of the argument is, and let them decide.”

This is not the first charge filed against the corporation. Before any layoffs were made, the guild accused the TU of declaring an unlawful impasse—an allegation that was dismissed by the NLRB. However, the guild is currently appealing the board’s dismissal.

In this case, however, the conclusion the NLRB has reached legitimizes O’Brien’s claims and gives him hope that the TU will have to take responsibility for its actions.

“This is no longer the Times Union versus its union,” he said. “The National Labor Relations Board has said the law was broken, and there needs to be a trial.”

—Elizabeth Knapp


Thin Blue Line

Mayor Harry Tutunjian’s pick for new police chief proposes controversial restructuring

Police Benevolent Association president Officer Robert Fitzgerald lists off examples of high-profile—and high-profit—cases closed by the Special Operations Section.

In one, a routine investigation led to a drug seizure that snagged the city of Troy a $350,000 take. In another, a $50 drug buy led an investigation to the Cayman Islands and the prosecution of a coke-smuggling ring that seized two nursing homes and paid for the ShotSpotter Gunshot Location System the city bought last year.

“You are going to see mid-level to high-level drug dealers move in if you eliminate the ability to conduct long-term investigations in the city,” Fitzgerald warned. He is speaking specifically about the restructuring of the Troy Police Department by the new chief, John Tedesco.

In an interview with Metroland, Tedesco said that he wanted to build on the successes of the Street Crimes Unit, a small unit of plainclothes officers who aggressively patrol high-crime neighborhoods, by abolishing the long-term drug investigation unit SOS and placing the officers in the Community Services Bureau.

Tedesco acknowledged that his plan has been panned by critics as a move away from community policing, but argued that the complaint is a misunderstanding of his ultimate goal. By abolishing SOS, the chief said, he will be able to put more officers out on the streets.

“I have pared down one officer from community policing and put two extra bodies into patrol, and you are going to see more of that during my tenure. I am very much of patrol orientation. I am increasing that number.”

“I certainly think that the focus of the department needs to change. And right now, that’s to get more people onto the streets,” he said. “I am not too sure if these quote ‘long-term investigations,’ how many of those we need to be doing, and how many of them are a productive use of our time.”

He calls this restructuring a “better use of a resource,” adding that there are some who feel that SOS is not as productive of a unit as it ought to be—that it is a place where officers go to pad their retirements with overtime.

Fitzgerald, however, countered that it is ridiculous to compare SCU to SOS. The drug unit conducts vital long-term investigations that bring down mid- to high-level drug dealers; SCU, he said, enforces quality-of-life issues, such as open containers.

This year, SCU has lodged 62 arrests, the majority of which were warrant arrests. Eleven of these arrests were SOS-related, including 10 felonies.

Plus, Fitzgerald warned, SOS has open investigations that might be put into jeopardy if the unit was abolished. One of these, he said—which you can read more about at metroland.net—involves possibly more than 30 city employees, including high-level members of the city’s administration.

Tedesco said that this is a restructuring that he has wanted to enact for at least two years. “Police departments being organizational structures, it takes a long time to catch up with the changes on the streets, and I am trying to expedite that. Things change in the streets and we are investigating drugs the same way we were doing it when I came here 34 years ago.”

As of press time, Tedesco was scheduled to be appointed at 1 PM today.


Photo: Chet Hardin

A List of Demands

Tea Party patriots got their fair share of small-government rallying this past week, as the local conservative activists held their own event at Riverfront Park Saturday only days after the national Tea Party Express had rolled into town. The themes, of course, were what you’d expect from this proto-Freedom Party blend of Republicans and angry protesters of a more libertarian stripe: less taxes, less governmental regulation, and less socialism. One speaker’s rallying cry that Republicans have contributed to the rise of the Big Party of International Bankers was met with blank stares. This was still, for the majority of the crowd at least, a GOP bitchfest.

—Chet Hardin

 

 

 


Loose Ends

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