By Alice E. Gerard
The atmosphere in Grand Island Town Hall was tense as the Grand Island Town Board approved, by a split 3-2 vote along party lines, a promotion for the town's deputy town clerks, after a contentious debate.
The promotion created a new pay grade for full-time employees, 6A, with hourly wages that range from $20.08 to $23.04. Part-time employees would also be promoted to a pay grade, 6, slightly lower than 6A, with hourly wages that range from $19.01 to $21.90. This proposal differs from the original request by Town Clerk Patricia Frentzel for full-time employees to be promoted to a full step above part-time employees. "I requested this increase for my staff so that they were paid equally to that of a senior clerk-typist, which is the union and non-union schedules, one pay grade above theirs," she said. The pay increase, Frentzel said, is 38 cents per hour for full-time employees, which, she said amounts to about $500 after taxes.
Frentzel explained that she supervises eight employees, which includes three dog control officers, who are not affected by the upgrade. There are three full-time and two part-time employees who work in the town clerk's office. "There were other nonunion and union increases that were also approved in this year's budget process," Frentzel said. "This is upsetting because my employees, who are appointed, feel that they are being singled out."
Town Councilman Mike Madigan proposed the resolution for a pay increase for the deputy town clerks, saying, "We've been looking into this for a number of years. There is more responsibility put on the clerk's office. We had pretty in-depth conversations this past year." In a written statement prepared by Madigan, he commented, "Our clerk's office does more than most in the region and, just this past week, our town, thanks to our well-organized clerk's office, was one of the few who were able to support property owners with full compliance with the IRS tax prepayment requirements, reducing their combined taxes by approximately $500,000."
Town Councilwoman Beverly Kinney asked for the motion to be tabled "so we can have a full conversation." In response to Madigan's comment about the process being dragged out, Kinney said, "I don't feel that I'm dragging anything out. I'm asking for clarification. I'm asking for the numbers. I'm asking for something in writing."
When Supervisor Nathan McMurray asked the two new Town Board members for their opinions, Councilwoman Jennifer Baney said, "I do feel confident in this, going forward. This is the right time for these positions to be given an upgrade step." Councilman Pete Marston asked if the changes would be made retroactive to Jan. 1, if the issue were tabled, pending discussion at an upcoming workshop meeting. Kinney said that the promotion could be retroactive.
When asked after the meeting, McMurray said, "We voted on a raise, without knowing the dollar amounts or the impact. It should have been listed in the packet so that the public could see it in advance, at the very least. If anyone is upset by this, they should not blame the clerks. Those clerks work very hard and do an excellent job. None of them made an appointment to request a raise, ever. If one of them came to me, and made the case one-on-one, why they deserved the raise, I would consider it." He also pointed out that no one spoke to Town Attorney Peter Godfrey or Town Accountant Pamela Barton prior to proposing the promotion for the town clerk's staff. Godfrey calculated the pay rates during the meeting.
"We want to do the right thing, not the expedient thing," McMurray said. "Sincerely, we can't do business like this."
In other business, the Town Board approved the appointment of Norman "Skip" Mrkall to the position of deputy highway superintendent. The Town Board also approved putting out an advertisement for a new code enforcement officer and the rehiring of Doug Learman to work only on the Holiday Inn Express project. The period of engagement will be up to six months. In addition, the Town Board scheduled a public hearing to discuss Local Law 8 from 2017 for Tuesday, Jan. 16. This proposed law would establish a moratorium on approvals of multiple dwellings and major housing developments for six months.
Several people spoke at the public comment period at the end of the meeting. Frank Greco asked for the West River multi-use trail to be canceled, saying, "Why disrupt 1,600 cars, duck hunters, and snowmobilers for 40 bike riders. Designate the parkway as a scenic road." He also suggested replacing the parkway with a winding road between the parkway and the river. "It would be more beautiful and more used."
Another speaker suggested canceling the plans for the multi-use trail and using the money to make "Buckhorn Island State Park more accessible."
Gail Williams said, "Close the road and put in the bike path. I've been watching my house on Zillow since you talked about putting in a bike path. It's gone up $100,000. I'm a happy camper."
Celia Spacone said, "Stop discussing something that's already in progress." She added that she doesn't notice more traffic on the service road when the parkway is not being plowed. "Let's work to make it (the multi-use trail) the best that it can be," she said.