Massena Public Library Director Elaine Dunne says part-time employees deserve salary increases like other library staff, but town officials say it’s not possible. Bob Beckstead/Watertown Daily Times

MASSENA — Massena Public Library Director Elaine Dunne says part-time employees deserve salary increases like other library employees, but town officials say it’s not possible.

“I just can’t understand the mean-spiritedness of it, that you would actually allow some employees an increase and give me an increase, but these other three people who have worked very hard during this COVID crisis get nothing at all, even though the cost of living is soaring,” Ms. Dunne told the Massena Town Council this week. “Can you imagine the feelings of these girls, and they’ve been with us a long time. They’re not fly-by-night to come in one month or two. They’ve been here for years.”

She said she wanted to give 2% salary increases to part-time employees by transferring funds from another account but was told it couldn’t be done.

She said while she and union employees received increases, nothing was budgeted for the part-time employees.

“So, what we decided to do was give them a 2% increase, which is what I have received, and we pulled it from our resources,” Ms. Dunne said. “It amounted to $1,200 and some change. We wanted that moved over so that the part-time employees could also get salary increases, and today I was told we couldn’t do that.”

She said the library wasn’t asking for more money from the town, but rather to transfer funds from another account to cover the increases.

“So I’m not sure why I can’t transfer at this point,” she said. “It’s not that they’re earning an exorbitant amount of money here. With the cost of living, I think it’s only fair to do that and the fact that some employees are getting an increase, but some are not. I find that very mean-spirited and completely unfair.”

“You and I have had this conversation before,” Town Supervisor Steven D. O’Shaughnessy said. “I think part-time was somebody that really isn’t entitled to the benefits that full-timers get, besides the fact that the full-timers are union. Part-time was part-time. It’s not something that they have to get raises or any other benefits, to me anyway.”

“I’m just not understanding it. If it’s an issue of not being able to transfer monies from GL (account), you know what, take my increase, my 2% and split it amongst those girls because there’s no way it’s going to work in our department,” Ms. Dunne said.

Mr. O’Shaughnessy replied: “Your salary is set, it’s posted, it’s advertised. There can’t be any change to it. I pointed you to the Canton audit where the town supervisor raised certain people or shuffled certain people around and the comptroller came in and whacked their hands.”

“It cannot be done,” he added. “But, we have no interest. We set the salaries based on what we felt that it should be. That’s set in stone as far as we’re concerned.”

He suggested the issue could be addressed when the new council members are sworn in next month. Mr. O’Shaughnessy, Deputy Town Supervisor Samuel D. Carbone Jr. and Councilor Albert N. Nicola will leave the board at the end of the year after not seeking reelection.

“I think when the new board comes on and they get a person to help the committee, they can go over and talk with the part-timers and lay out how the town board wants them to be paid, whether they get any increase in the money or any other thing like sick leave or vacation time. So, that all has to be worked out,” Mr. O’Shaughnessy said.

Mr. Carbone said he believed everything is spelled out in the employee handbook regarding union contracts and management salaries that are decided by the Town Council.

“So that leaves the employees that aren’t covered by either, that would be covered under the employee handbook,” he said. “I think that the liaisons would work that out and propose something to the board and for those wages.”

Joseph Savoca, president of the Massena Public Library Board of Trustees, said his board had the power to set the salary for library staff, but Mr. O’Shaughnessy disagreed.

“There’s been a long history of the evolution of what’s the relationship between a municipality and a municipal library. If anybody is interested, I can give you all of the laws and references if you’re willing to at least look at them and read them and see what the powers of library trustees are,” Mr. Savoca said. “We have the power to set salaries, we have the power to transfer money from one line of the budget to another line, we have the power to hire the director and to approve the hiring of staff.”

“You and I have discussed this for the last six years and if we disagree, we disagree,” Mr. O’Shaughnessy said. “Our town attorney does not agree with what you perceive. That’s what he says, and he’s up on municipal law and I trust him on anything that he speaks to.”

Town Secretary and Bookkeeper Brenda Mossow noted that some departments had lost part-time employees.

“So I tell these people who are not getting any kind of increase, ‘You’re lucky you have a job.’ Is that basically what you’re telling me to say to them?” Ms. Dunne asked.

“We’re all lucky we have a job right now,” Ms. Mossow said.

“Yes, we are, but we all work hard. At least my part-timers do and they deserve compensation for that,” Ms. Dunne said. “The full-timers got a nice deal with the union contract. I understand that they’re doing better than anyone and the town was OK to sign that contract. So, I’m not understanding why that was OK. The money was there for that, but the money is not OK for part-timers.”

“We’re not asking for any more money from the town,” she added. “We recognize that the town is having problems with money, but the library has always been very good about fundraising.”

Mr. O’Shaughnessy said other part-time employees such as those who are hired as summer help receive no wage increases.

“Their salary is never increased. They’re paid minimum wage. That’s the way it is,” he said.

“And they’re seasonal help,” Ms. Dunne said.

Mr. O’Shaughnessy reiterated that new Town Council members could address the issue.

“If the new board wants to work something out with them, with the board, then that’s up to them,” he said. “But, as it stands now, we’ve made our decision. We passed our budget. That is that.”

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(4) comments

Joseph Savoca

Speaking for myself as a private citizen and exercising my first amendment right,

It is funny how the conservative commentators state that public employees are overpaid, until it comes to those public employees that the commentators consider "conservative", and then it is a different story.

Joseph Savoca

Although sometimes regarded by municipalities as a department of government, “Public libraries are, for most purposes, fiscally autonomous from the sponsoring municipality... In addition, public library officers and employees often are not considered to be officers and employees of the sponsoring municipality...” Op. State Compt. 93-15, 1993

While it is up to the municipal governing board to determine the amount to be appropriated for library purposes, library boards have broad authority relating to the expenditures of library monies. Line item appropriations for library appropriations made by a municipal governing board may be disregarded by the library board. Op. State Compt. 83-96 1983

A municipal governing body may not place restrictions and limitations upon the expenditure by the library board of trustees of funds appropriated for library purposes. Op. State Compt. 72-6, 1972

Even though a village may have appropriated money for a village public library by line items, the library board of trustees may disregard the line items and use the monies as it sees fit in administering the affairs of the library. Op. State Compt. 72-553, 1972

Unexpended library fund moneys remain the property of the library and surplus monies in a municipal library fund may be carried over from year to year and accumulated for proper library purposes as determined by the library board. Op. State Compt. 2002-7, 2002

Even before … [Education Law s259(1) was amended [L. 1973, c. 200] to authorize payment of library appropriations to treasurers of municipal libraries, we had been faced with a continuing trend in the direction of virtual autonomy of these public libraries. This trend was fueled by some court decisions in the area of collective bargaining and notices of tort claim, among others.

So it has become our position that, in budgeting matters, even where the municipal fiscal officer had custody of library appropriations, neither such fiscal officer nor the municipality’s governing board had any real control over the character of library expenses.

For example, the library board was not bound by the categories of expenditures appearing in estimates which it submitted to the municipal governing board at budget-making time. That is, it could change the purposes of expenditures without approval of the municipality, on the theory that once appropriations had been made and the money earmarked, it became the absolute property of the library trustees, subject only to the municipal fiscal officer’s custody and the requirement that the vouchers be submitted to him for payment.

Furthermore, any unexpended balances of library appropriations in his hands at year’s end did not revert to the municipality, but continued to belong to the library and could not be offset* against library appropriations in the upcoming budget.

Using these principles as a springboard, we had little difficulty, in 1973, in concluding that the amendment to section 259(1) of the Education Law provided the final installment of total fiscal independence to these municipal libraries. The Legislature had authorized payment of library appropriations to the library treasurers and hence, neither the municipal governing boards nor the municipal fiscal officers had any further official interest or responsibility for these monies once they came into the possession of library treasurers. This is the position which we are currently taking. Not only is it good common sense but we also consider it good law, in view of all the circumstances” Op. State Compt. 76-554, 1975 (unreported) *This differs from two earlier opinions – 27 Op. State Compt. 65, 1971 and Op. State Compt. 72-197, 1972 – which stated that a municipal governing body, “in fixing the amount to be appropriated ...for library purposes, may take into account the amount remaining to the credit of the library...”(I.e. the library fund balance from the prior year)

Joseph Savoca

New York State Education Law Section 259 Library taxes

All moneys received from taxes or other public sources for library purposes shall be kept as a separate library fund by the treasurer of the municipality or district making the appropriation and shall be expended only under direction of the library trustees on properly authenticated vouchers

The sponsoring municipality decides the total allocation for library services and the library trustees have the power to decide how the funds will be spent. Any other position has no basis in law.

Joseph Savoca

New York State Education Law Section 226 Powers of trustees of institutions

7. Officers and employees. Appoint and fix the salaries of such

officers and employees as they shall deem necessary who, unless employed

under special contract, shall hold their offices during the pleasure of

the trustees

Municipal library trustees have the power to set employee salaries. It is in New York State law. Town officials do not have this power. Massena town supervisors can not cite any legal justification for their position of circumventing the law and assuming that power for themselves.

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