The tug of war over proposed raises for three City of Lackawanna department heads continued Monday night when the Council unanimously voted to override a mayoral veto that reinstated the raises.
Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski included raises for City Attorney Antonio M. Savaglio, City Comptroller Peggy Bigaj Sobol and Parks and Recreation Director Marcia A. Cullens in the 2014-15 budget that he submitted to the Council.
But the Council restored their original salaries in the budget approved June 16. Szymanski vetoed that decision, notifying the Council in a letter dated June 30.
“These three positions are department head positions and are running understaffed while still providing great service,” Szymanski wrote.
Department heads received raises last year, when a new contract for police officers was approved. But Council members said then they were unaware that a city ordinance adopted in 2009 links pay raises for patrol officers to corresponding wage increases for nonbargaining employees.
Council President Henry R. Pirowski said the Council vowed then to clamp down on any future raises and only give raises based on merit.
“We’re basically following through on a promise we made last year,” he said after the meeting.
Two Council members who support the raises voted to join the majority in overriding Szymanski’s veto only after it was agreed that the Council may revisit the issue at its August meeting. First Ward Councilman Abdul Noman and 2nd Ward Councilwoman Annette Iafallo said Cullen specifically deserves a raise because of her workload and lack of staff support.
“She’s by herself and she needs help,” Noman said of Cullen, who was to receive a raise from $45,000 a year to $53,000.
“I’m watching her take work home,” Iafallo said. “I went in the office one time and she was so swamped she was in tears.”
But Pirowski said Cullen has previously “usurped” the Council’s authority when she used funds from other lines in her budget to hire a part-time clerk. Savaglio, when asked, said Cullen’s action was “inappropriate.”
Third Ward Councilman Joseph L. Jerge said he may support smaller raises for the department heads, if the Council revisits the issue.
“If we can talk about the size of the raises I’d be willing to discuss that,” he said.
• A public hearing was scheduled for the Council’s Aug. 11 meeting to discuss a plan to install 13,000 solar panels on brownfields at the former Bethlehem Steel site.
• The parents of one of two new city police officers set to be laid off July 31 as part of a package of cuts questioned why the city would pay for their academy training only to lay them off. A lower garbage user fee agreed upon last month resulted in four layoffs from three city service departments – two from police, one from fire and one from sanitation.
Pirowski said that the cuts resulted in “pain across the board” and that the Council had asked the mayor to impose a hiring freeze before the officers were hired – a request that was ignored.