The last chapter in the saga involving five Public Works employees and the privatization of the Louis Astorino Ice Rink played out Monday night when the Legislative Council approved the $140,000 salary retropayment.
"This was the payment for lost wages for the time the employees were laid off," Chief Administrative Officer Curt Balzano Leng said.
The employees were laid off July 1, 2010, the date the management of the rink was transferred to a private company. Mayor Scott Jackson and the council approved the privatization as a way to save the town money, claiming that the town's operation of the rink led to a $300,000 yearly loss.
But in June 2011 the State Labor Board with back pay, agreeing with the United Public Service Employees Union that the layoffs were illegal.
In August 2011 with the union that called for the retropayment of salaries to the four employees and a secretary, and the money for that payment was officially allocated Monday.
But because those funds were supposed to have been paid last month, the union filed a grievence against the town over it. With it now paid, town officials are hoping that will be withdrawn.
The money was transfered to the town's legal settlement account from a Fire Department salary line, which fire officials warned would mean it would need an extra $200,000 to get through the rest of the fiscal year.
But the bulk of that money will be able to be found internally, Leng said, without having to hit the council's Emergency and Contingency account.
While some had estimated the payment would total as much as a half million dollars, the $140,000 will end the dispute, Leng said, and give the town the right to continue allowing a private firm to run the rink, saving money in the long run.
But some council members weren't happy with the situation.
"This is a waste of $140,000 of taxpayer's money," said Councilman Michael Colaiacovo Jr. He questioned the wisdom of the town's labor attorney who, he said, had assured town officials that the town would prevail in the union's appeal of the privatization.
"They said it would be a slam dunk case," he said, "and it's some slam dunk to the taxpayers.
"I think we had some bad advice from our labor attorneys, and here we are two years later," he said, noting that the union still has pending litigation against the town regarding the privatization of recyclables pickups that also resulted in layoffs. "I think it's time we think about changing labor attorneys."
"We didn't get $140,000 worth of work out of them," Councilwoman Betty Wetmore said, "and now we are going to have the same issue with them again," she said, referring to the current case in court. "That's going to be more money."
Leng said he couldn't discuss the details of the current cases with the council in public session but would do so in executive session should the council desire.
"I realize at this point it's all water under the bridge," said Councilwoman Kath Schomaker, and now that the employees will return to work, she wants to see what they will be doing.
"As these folks get back on the payroll, there could be some duplication because we have made arrangements for others to do some of their jobs," she said. "I'm concerned we maximize the use of all personnel.
"I would like to see this because there are things that aren't getting done," she said. "I want to see how we can add value for the taxpayers on the streets."