MASSENA — Although former town officials said they couldn’t do it, the president of the Massena Public Library Board of Trustees cites several sources that say library officials could have provided pay increases to part-time employees as requested by library Director Elaine Dunne.
During a December meeting, Ms. Dunne told the Massena Town Board that part-time employees deserve salary increases like her and union employees. While she and union employees received increases, nothing was budgeted for the part-time employees. She wanted to give 2% salary increases this year to part-time employees by transferring funds from one account to another.
She told board members that the library wasn’t looking for more money from the town, but rather to transfer existing funds from another account to cover the increases. If she wasn’t able to transfer funds, Ms. Dunne said she could use part of her 2% salary increase for the part-time employee increases.
Ms. Dunne may make such a recommendation for board approval, said Joseph Savoca, president of the library board.
“Her recommendation was to move the money from what’s called books and periodicals to cover salary increases for the part-time workers. It amounted to $1,200 for the year,” Mr. Savoca said.
However, town board members said in December, she wasn’t able to make that transfer to cover the increases.
“It cannot be done. Your salary is set, it’s posted, it’s advertised. There can’t be any change to it. It cannot be done,” then Town Supervisor Steven D. O’Shaughnessy said. “We set the salaries based on what we felt that it should be. That’s set in stone as far as we’re concerned.”
Mr. Savoca told the town board that his board had the power to set salaries for library staff, but Mr. O’Shaughnessy disagreed.
“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,” Mr. O’Shaughnessy said.
Following the meeting, Mr. Savoca cited several decisions that gave the library board the power to set the salaries.
For instance, he said, the state comptroller has said public libraries are, for most purposes, “fiscally autonomous from the sponsoring municipality,” and public library officers and employers are often not considered to be officers and employees of the sponsoring municipality.
He also noted a comptroller decision that said, while it is up to the municipal governing board to determine the amount that is appropriated to the library, the library’s board has broad authority on how that money is used, whether it is used for salaries, resources or other items.
“The library trustees decide how they want to spend the money. They have the discretion,” Mr. Savoca said.
He said a municipal governing body could also not place restrictions and limitations on the use of the funds that has been appropriated for library purposes, according to the comptroller.
For example, he said, “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.”
He also cited New York state Education Law, which says that municipal library trustees have the authority to set employee salaries. Mr. Savoca said town officials don’t have that power and Mr. O’Shaughnessy “could not cite any legal justification for their position of circumventing the law and assuming that power for themselves.”