Dunkirk fiscal affairs officer starts Monday

The city of Dunkirk has a new fiscal affairs officer after Common Council approved Mayor Anthony J. Dolce’s appointment of city resident Richard Halas to the position. Halas will be paid $30,000 per year for a minimum of 25 hours per week.

The appointment didn’t come without questions however, beginning with city resident Tom Taylor’s in the privilege of the floor session during Wednesday’s meeting. Taylor’s concerns included an increase of 25 percent per hour allocated to the position, according to his figures, and where the money was coming from.

“Everything I hear is we’re financially strapped here in this city and cutting costs and everything else. The average guy, if he’s lucky, gets 3 to 5 percent increase in the course of a possible fiscal year,” Taylor stated. “It seems pretty extreme to me. Secondly, I’d like to know where the money’s coming for this because supposedly the budget was cut to the bone when Mayor Dolce gave his address about that.”

Taylor also wanted to know who would monitor Halas’ hours.

“I don’t think the 25 percent is correct but we will check that. As far as monitoring the hours, that’s part of my responsibility,” Dolce replied. “That’s not a concern of mine. The job will be done in at least those hours.”

He added the money was budgeted under contracted services in the fiscal affairs budget and when he took office the position paid $44,000.

Taylor said replacing one person and increasing the wages doesn’t make sense with the fiscal concerns the city has.

“I answered your questions. The money is budgeted. We’ll go from there,” Dolce replied.

Prior to the vote on Resolution 1-2013 approving the appointment, Councilwoman-at-Large Stephanie Kiyak asked for an amendment to the resolution, removing both references to Halas being hired as an independent contractor.

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Stacy Szukala asked if there could be a discussion prior to a vote.

“We can have a discussion on the resolution after. The resolution isn’t up yet so we’ll have to amend the resolution first with the language,” Kiyak replied.

“I’m asking for the reason for the language change, if we could have it clarified prior to the amendment,” Szukala stated.

Kiyak agreed to a discussion and asked if Szukala had a question. Szukala replied that a lot of work had gone into the appointment.

“When we got the resolution it was as an independent contractor and now we’re changing it to an employee,” Szukala stated. “So I just like it clarified what those differences will be.”

“Basically, that position doesn’t fall under the guise of an independent contractor,” Dolce replied.

After a discussion about possible benefits Halas could receive, Second Ward Councilman William J. Rivera thanked both Kiyak and Szukala for their efforts.

“I’m not in the mood right now for having more surprises,” he stated. “I know there are more out there waiting for us.”

Both the amendment and the resolution passed unanimously.

After the meeting Dolce was asked how much the change in Halas’ status would add to the cost of hiring him.

“Any addition is budgeted for out of the contracted services line in that department,” the mayor replied.

Dolce was asked if the city would then be paying a part-time employee out of contracted services.

“We’re going to have to make an adjustment because that’s where it was budgeted for the year,” he replied. “So like we did in early 2012 when we did a budget transfer putting it into that status, away from personal services, now we’ll go back to personal services so it’s accurately budgeted for.”

Dolce was asked why the change.

“In our research it simply doesn’t fall under the guise of what’s deemed an independent contractor,” he replied. “Council has been kept abreast of every development that has happened.”

Dolce said that he didn’t know where the confusion about benefits came from.

“There are no benefits. (Halas) is eligible, if he so chooses, and at this time I don’t know if he will, to contribute to the New York State retirement under Tier 6. We’ll find out if he does or not,” Dolce stated. “That’s it. No health insurance, no whatever the vacation rate is, I don’t even know. Appointees are not afforded those perks.”

After the meeting Halas was asked what brought about his interest in the position.

“This is a great community. The people here are wonderful and I really hope that I serve them well,” Halas replied. “I’ll do my best 100 percent. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m probably one of the biggest cheerleaders of Dunkirk, and defenders unfortunately in recent times.”

Halas said his background includes 30 years of accounting and auditing experience in both private and government sectors.

According to 1-2013, Halas will begin his city duties on Monday.

Send comments on this story to gsnyder@observertoday.com