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Saratoga Springs officials at odds over union contract negotiations

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Albany/HV: Saratoga Springs officials at odds over union contract negotiations
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As Saratoga Springs elected officials plan next year's budget, the city's mayor and finance commissioner are at odds over what the pace of ongoing labor negotiations are costing taxpayers. YNN's Matt Hunter reports.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – One week after proposing a $40.3 million city budget for 2014, Saratoga Springs Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan hosted her first of six public workshops Tuesday afternoon.

Madigan recommends the city council approve a 0.68 percent property tax hike to cover an extra $460,000 in spending compared to last year.

While those numbers are modest, she's criticized Mayor Scott Johnson for his handling of negotiations with the city's seven labor unions. Currently, six of those contracts are expired with the last set to run out at the end of the year.

"It's not fair to our employees, it's not fair to our taxpayers, it's not fair to the budget," Madigan said following the workshop.

Madigan claims the delays have made it difficult to plan for. When the firefighter's union contract was settled earlier this year, it cost an additional $494,000. Johnson believes the extra time is worth it to get a fair and affordable deal for taxpayers.

"We're being tougher, if you will, in negotiating on behalf of the city management position,” said Johnson, who pointed to $440,000 in annual savings by consolidating six of the seven unions under one health care plan. “Again, being fair, but being tougher and we've achieved results because of that."

"I disagree,” Madigan said. “The increases in salary over the last years has been two percent, two percent, two percent, two percent. Those would be the same kind of salary increases we would have seen if he'd negotiated the contracts in a timely manner."

In turn, Johnson has criticized Madigan for not setting aside enough contingency funds for when the contracts are ultimately negotiated.

In the current fiscal year, she budgeted $600,000 for contingency with another $472,000 set aside from a 2011 fund balance excess. For 2014 she’s recommending $150,000 be marked for contingency with an additional $375,000 set aside.

Despite their different opinions, both officials are hopeful the contract disputes will be settled by the end of the year.

"I believe I have adequately planned year after year to settle these contracts and I think it's time to get it done," Madigan said.1

"I stand behind the figures whole heatedly in terms of the approach taken on union contracts by the city, by the management, under my administration,” Johnson said. “There is no doubt that was the only way to do it."

The next budget workshop is scheduled for the Oct. 15 city council meeting.

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