Albany water department head won't accept raise, backs union

 Albany
Commissioner Joe Coffey won't take the 9.4 percent raise budgeted for his $99,713 city Water Department post in 2017.
Saying he is "very sensitive to the visibility of the salary increases" while blue collar workers remain without a new union contract, Coffey will forgo the increase to $110,000 in the 2017 budget until a contract is negotiated. "They work hard, and I will never take for granted the work they do," he told the Common Council Monday in his budget presentation.
Some council members and residents have criticized the pay increases in Mayor Kathy Sheehan's $177 million proposed 2017 budget. Raises are planned for positions in various departments, including the corporation counsel and administrative services, and some of the largest are in the water department.
The department's separate budget is overseen by the Water Board and Water Authority which approved it on Oct. 21, Coffey said.
Councilman Judd Krasher said Coffey's decision was "extremely admirable."
"I wish other department heads would follow suit," Krasher said, going further to say, "wherever there is a proposed raise increase that it be tabled."
Frank Coons, president of Albany Blue Collar Workers Union Local 1961, said in an email to the council that the city has stalled negotiations and argued there isn't money available for raises for union workers. The union represents employees in the water department. The contract expired in 2013.
The money slated for raises and new positions "sends a clear message to the very workers that clear the streets, collect the trash, keep the parks clean and safe and maintain our water system — that they do not matter," Coons said in the email. "This issue affects residents in every single ward and needs to be addressed by stopping the slated raises in question."
The water department's budget includes 13 new positions that are mostly unionized.
Coffey said the raises ensure attracting qualified candidates commensurate with similar positions in other communities.
While Coffey won't take the salary hike next year, he wants to make sure that should anything happen to him, the individual to take his place would be fairly compensated.
"It's not about getting rich doing it," he said. "We just need to make sure we have compensation levels that are commensurate with what the performance expectations are for the people in that position."
Despite the raises and overall increase in the water budget, from $31.5 million this year to $34.4 million, there will be no increase in city water rates next year. Coffey said finances are in good shape even with additional projects coming up because the department has been paying down debt.
afries@timesunion.com • 518-454-5353 • @mandy_fries