STAMFORD – Against the advice of the Board of Finance, city representatives this month OK’d a firefighters contract that will cost a total of $17.4 million; a police contract worth $11 million; and now may accept a three-year pact with a supervisors union that will cost a total of $3.2 million.
This week the Board of Representatives’ Personnel Committee voted to recommend that the full board approve an agreement the city negotiated with the Stamford Municipal Supervisory Employees’ Union, known as the MAA, which represents 128 department heads and managers.
The committee vote was close. It has nine members, but only seven attended the meeting. Four favored the MAA contract, one opposed it, and two abstained from voting.
The full board is set to consider it Dec. 4.
When the MAA contract went before the Board of Finance, members said it should be rejected because the union represents some of the highest-paid employees in the city, several of whom recently received raises when their job classifications were upgraded.
Finance board members also said they want to limit the burden on taxpayers, who face a big hit in 2024 because of Board of Education increases and the cost of a property revaluation phase-in.
Their concerns weren’t lost on the representatives who sit on the Personnel Committee. The chair, city Rep. Anabel Figueroa, wanted to know the average annual earnings of an MAA employee.
Their salaries start in the upper $90,000’s and end at about $170,000, outgoing Human Resources Director Al Cava said.
“The average is between $140,000 and $150,000” a year, Cava told Figueroa.
The contract, which is retroactive to July 1 of this year and expires in 2026, would give employees 3 percent annual raises.
City Rep. Don Mays, a member of the committee, questioned the amount, saying it was his understanding that other municipalities are giving annual increases of 2.6 percent or 2.7 percent for 2024 and 2025.
But Cava said 3 percent is within the norm, using the two other Stamford contracts as examples.
“The Board of Representatives approved increases for the police and firefighter contracts for those same years at 3.175 percent and 3.125 percent,” Cava said. “In municipal settlements, the average 2.67 percent increase (cited by Mays) goes back 18 months. But, since May of 2023, half of the settlements have been over 3 percent.”
It has to do with inflation, which spiked nationally during the coronavirus pandemic, Cava said. Inflation peaked at 9.1 percent in June 2022 but has fallen considerably, most recently measured at 3.2 percent.
“There’s always a lag between what’s negotiated at the bargaining table and the increase of inflation. Until you feel the inflation effect in the pocketbook, you don’t ask for a higher increase at the bargaining table,” Cava said. “We’re getting the push for the higher increase now from the inflation we had over the last 12 months or so.”
With inflation cooling, “we’ll see general wage increases level off … and trend down, as long as inflation continues to come down,” Cava said. “You always have that lag effect in bargaining.”
Figueroa asked Cava to explain a provision in the MAA contract that, next year, gives each union member $325.
That “was a compromise we made when the union was looking for a higher general wage increase in the second year. In order to get the deal done, we agreed to give a one-time lump sum payment of $325,” Cava said.
The payment does not apply to employees’ pensions, he said. The cost of the payment to all 128 union members amounts to $41,925, Cava said.
City Rep. Mary Fedeli, the committee vice chair, asked about a concern raised by her colleagues on the Board of Finance – some MAA members got pay hikes when the city reclassified their jobs.
Cava said no MAA members received those raises this fiscal year, and two did last fiscal year.
“In 2021-23, there were eight,” Cava said. “They were all department heads at different salary grades, so we had an equity issue.”
The Human Resources department resolved it in November 2021 by placing all eight positions at salary grade 12, Cava said.
The committee then took a vote. Fedeli, Mays, city Rep. Phil Berns and city Rep. Terry Adams voted to recommend that the full board approve the MAA contract. Only city Rep. Amiel Goldberg voted to recommend that the contract be rejected. Figueroa and city Rep. Bobby Pavia abstained from voting.
Earlier this month, members of the Board of Finance voted unanimously to issue a “negative advisory” to the Board of Representatives. Finance board members said representatives should reject the “generous” MAA contract.
Finance board members cited fiscal hardships ahead – the Board of Education faces a $9 million deficit created when school administrators used one-time COVID-19 federal relief funding to pay 120 salaries. Stamford taxpayers will have to pick up that cost if those school employees are to remain. The school district also is anticipating higher costs from increased enrollments of special education students and English Language Learners, and from a new bus contract.
City officials have been setting aside money in a fund that will help pay for a $1.5 billion plan to rebuild or repair 18 schools. Last year they hiked taxes to raise $20 million for the fund. This year they raised $15 million from a tax increase, and are expected to do the same next year.
Finally, tax bills will be higher next year because the second phase of a state-mandated property revaluation kicks in. The revaluation took place during a house-buying spree that was fueled by the pandemic and elevated the price of single-family homes an average of 25 percent. Values went up so much that finance board members charged half the higher tax payments this year, and will charge the second half next year.