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Brown's new plan seeks bigger pay hikes City employees would get multiple-step raises, while school workers would move up one level

About 2,000 city employees would see bigger increases in their paychecks this summer under a revised plan to lift the wage freeze that was unveiled Wednesday by Mayor Byron W. Brown.

Brown wants to raise all city employees up to the salary tiers they would have been at had the wage freeze not been imposed in 2004. Under a plan approved Tuesday by the control board, workers would have only moved up one salary step, even if they missed several during the three-year wage freeze.

But at the same time, the city is seeking state legislation that could prevent school district employees from moving more than one step up the salary tier. School officials have maintained the district can't afford to restore all salary steps, a claim that the head of the teachers union disputes.

Brown upped the salary ante after a control board official made it clear Tuesday it's the city's prerogative to decide how raises should be paid after the wage freeze ends. The oversight panel voted unanimously Tuesday to lift the 38-month-old wage freeze effective July 1.

More than 440 city employees would get raises ranging anywhere from about $800 to nearly $10,000, depending on their job and current salary step. Nearly 2,000 city workers would receive smaller longevity payments that are tied to years of service.

Brown stressed that he doesn't control school spending, and he declined to become embroiled in the dispute. But he said there's no question the city can afford to make city workers whole.

"We believe that the city could pay for all of the steps and longevity that city employees missed during the wage freeze," said Brown, who said costs in the first year would be $2.2 million.

Over four years, the raises would cost the city $10.7 million. Finance Commissioner Janet Penksa said a commitment by the state to provide increased aid to Buffalo is a significant factor.

But the mayor acknowledged Wednesday that the plan hinges on getting the State Legislature to approve a law that would give the control board the power to separate the city and its school district along with other covered entities when considering wage freeze issues.

School district officials warned last month that bringing all Board of Education employees up to the salary levels they missed because of the wage freeze would cost $20 million in the coming year and trigger "devastating" cuts. A plan advanced two weeks ago by Brown to give employees one-step salary increases would cost the school district $5.7 million this year.

A month ago, Brown submitted a plan to the control board that would restore all salary step increases and longevity payments they missed during the wage freeze. But the mayor insisted that based on verbal legal opinions he received from the control board and the governor's office, he amended the plan to include only single-step increases.

When the control board denied that it had issued any such verbal or written legal opinions, an angry Brown announced he was going back to his original plan to fully restore all step increases and longevity payments and will submit a modified plan to the control board.

But control board Executive Director Dorothy A. Johnson reiterated the panel's position Wednesday.

"We have said all along that it is the city administration's responsibility to determine how the employees should be paid," Johnson said.

Does she think the control board will approve Brown's budget modification?

"We'll review it when it's submitted."

A month ago, when Brown submitted his original plan to restore all salary steps for employees, control board officials said they believed the city had enough resources to deal with a lifting of the wage freeze. But they wanted to see more details.

Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore said Brown should be "applauded" for fighting to put city employees at their rightful salary steps, and he urged the school district to take similar action. Rumore predicted that any push for a state law that would let the control board have a different wage freeze standard for the school district would be struck down as unconstitutional.

Rumore added he believes there's undeniable evidence that Buffalo and its school district are on solid budget footing.

"There is no fiscal crisis that exists anymore," he insisted.

Among the city employees who would receive the biggest raises would be about 55 police officers and 18 firefighters. About 70 of these uniformed workers would see their salaries increase by anywhere from $3,100 to nearly $10,000.

According to figures supplied Wednesday by the budget office, 137 white-collar employees would get raises ranging from about $1,200 to as much as $6,500. About 94 blue-collar workers would see their salaries go up by anywhere from $831 to more than $2,900. More than 100 city employees in other agencies and separate divisions also would see increases.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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Lifting the wage freeze

What it would mean for city workers

>What will police officers make if the wage freeze is lifted and all salary steps are restored?

Most officers already receive the top base salary of $57,978, so they would only be eligible to receive small longevity payments. *29 officers currently at Step 3 will go from $51,099 to $57,978; 26 officers at Step 4 will go from $54,535 to $57,978.

*New police officers would continue to be hired at a $44,229 starting salary.

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>What about firefighters?

Most firefighters already receive the top base salary of $51,072, so they would only receive small longevity payments.

*17 firefighters at Step 2 would go from $41,094 to $51,072; one firefighter at Step 4 would go from $47,471 to $51,072.

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>How many city employees will see salary increases?

About 16 percent of the city's overall work force -- 441 of 2,700 employees -- will see pay hikes ranging from about $800 to nearly $10,000. About 2,000 would get smaller longevity payments that average about $160.

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>What will the pay increases cost in the first year?

$2.2 million.

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>How about the cost over four years?

$10.7 million.

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>Does the city have the money to pay that?

City budget officials insist the increases are "absolutely affordable," pointing to long-term commitments from the state to provide significant aid, along with steps the city has taken, including attrition and cutting costs in other areas.

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>Will there be any room for negotiated raises in the future, or is the city too close to its taxing limit?

Mayor Byron W. Brown has stressed that raises included in future contracts will be funded largely by finding "creative" ways to save money in other areas, including possible changes in work rules.

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>How will the hiring of 40 new police officers this year affect the budget?

The city has balanced its budget even with the 40 new positions. The city has benefited from job attrition in other departments, higher revenues and increases in state aid.

-- Brian Meyer

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