By Kristin Schultz
NISKAYUNA — Despite calls from residents to work together, the Niskayuna Town Board and its new supervisor are not yet on the same page.
The regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 23 saw finger-wagging during privilege of the floor and a vote along party lines denying a salary for Supervisor Yasmine Syed’s appointed bookkeeper.
Near the end of the meeting, Syed sponsored a resolution to set the salary of Jan Nish, who would work 30 hours per week, at an annual salary of $29,642. At a board meeting earlier this month, Syed proposed a salary of $40,219. That salary was voted down.
Despite the reduction in proposed salary, Councilman John Della Ratta raised the same concerns: Why should the town pay for a bookkeeper when it already has four and how will the town pay for the position? It was not part of the approved budget.
He also said that the board had only received the salary number just hours before the meeting and had not had enough time to talk about it. He moved to postpone the resolution indefinitely.
Lisa Weber seconded the motion and said she would like to see the matter discussed publicly. All four board members voted yes to postpone the resolution; Syed voted no.
“We have had very little communication with the supervisor,” Della Ratta said later. “That’s the main reason we tabled the resolution.”
He went on to say that he would also like to see a written job description.
“The comptroller has always been the supervisor’s bookkeeper,” Della Ratta said. “If she wants to do something different, that’s fine with us. We just need justification to spend another $40,000 we haven’t budgeted for.”
Syed disagreed with Della Ratta’s assessment of the situation, saying that prior to the board meeting, she and comptroller Paul Sebesta found money that was budgeted for personnel but the positions were unfilled.
Syed said she has sent out two emails to the board members spelling out where the funds would come from and had previously communicated in writing and at the previous board meeting on Jan. 9 what the job duties would be.
“In addition I’ve met with and talked to [board member] Bill McPartlon on numerous occasions, hashing out the details and trying to negotiate,” Syed said.
The most recent email was sent on Jan.. 22, a day before the most recent meeting.
“[Della Ratta] was here during the day on Tuesday,” Syed said. “Had he wanted to talk about it, my door is alway open and I would have welcomed it.”
Approving additional money for salaries is not unheard of in Niskayuna. In 2015 Della Ratta and Councilwoman Denise Murphy McGraw were on the Town Board when it approved a $15,000 raise for then-employee Nicole Salamone in the middle of the year. They also voted to approve the appointment of David Fronk to replace Salamone last June with an increase in salary over hers of around $8,000.
Those funds came from the town’s contingency budget.
Both Della Ratta and Syed said they are going to move forward with the goal of resolving the bookkeeper issue.
Syed said she’s willing to put the resolution back on the docket at an upcoming meeting, and in the meantime is open to Weber’s idea of holding a public meeting to discuss the issue. Syed said if that is not possible, she will reach out to each individual board member to negotiate the salary and positions.
Della Ratta said he is open to doing things differently under Syed’s administration but wants better communication.
“The board continues looking forward to working with the supervisor to accomplish her goals, which we believe are getting more tax revenue from the county as well as decreasing our taxes for town residents,” he said.
During the privilege of the floor portion of the meeting, longtime resident Lorene Zabin scolded Della Ratta for being on his smartphone and iPad during meetings, and accused him of using the technology to feed questions to fellow board members.
Weber came to Della Ratta’s defense, saying he uses technology to take notes and was insulted that Zabin would insinuate that she could not think for herself.
“I ask my own questions,” Weber said. “I can’t help but wonder if I was a male board member sitting here would you have raised the same question.”
Della Ratta declined to comment on Zabin’s comments.