Opinion 2007 - 6
POLICE AND POLICE PROTECTION -- Police Chief (entitlement to one-time payment made to next ranking subordinate officer)
This is in reply to your inquiry concerning the requirements for compensating a village police chief under General Municipal Law § 207-m. You indicate that the village is considering an arrangement with the permanent full-time police officer who is a member of a negotiating unit and who is the highest ranking subordinate to the police chief (the “next subordinate officer”). Under the proposed arrangement, for a period not to exceed one year, the next subordinate officer would assume the additional duties of performing certain supervisory and administrative functions when the chief is unavailable, serving in effect as “acting chief.” You further indicate that the village proposes to compensate the next subordinate officer in a specific amount, to be paid in a single lump sum at the conclusion of the one year period. The payment would be made irrespective of the amount of time actually spent by the next subordinate officer as “acting chief.” You ask whether, pursuant to General Municipal Law § 207-m, the police chief would be entitled to a monetary payment in the amount of the lump sum payment made to the next subordinate officer.
General Municipal Law § 207-m(2) defines “salary” and “other compensation” as follows:
General Municipal Law § 207-m was originally enacted “to prevent the compression of salaries as between police department heads who are not members of negotiating units, and their subordinates who are” ( Matter of Murphy v Village of Dolgeville, 87 NY2d 883, 639 NYS2d 1006; see also 2005 Ops St Comp No. 2005-5, at 13; 1995 Ops St Comp No. 95-31, at 63; 1991 Ops St Comp No. 91-35, at 106). Prior to the 1999 amendments, a police chief’s entitlement under General Municipal Law § 207-m was triggered only when the “base salary” of the next subordinate officer in a bargaining unit was “increased.” The 1999 amendments to General Municipal Law § 207-m expanded the scope of the statute to cover “increases” in “other compensation,” as defined in the amended General Municipal Law § 207-m, as well as “base salary.” These amendments were “[b]ased on the same parity logic which supported” the original salary provisions (Budget Report, Bill Jacket, L 1999, ch 443; see also Senate Introducer’s Mem in Support, Bill Jacket, L 1999, ch 404).
With respect to the requirement that the police chief’s increase be “with the same conditions” as those imposed on the next subordinate officer, the police chief, as a rule, would be required to satisfy any conditions that the village has placed upon the subordinate officer’s receipt of the increase ( see e.g. Whitman v City of Troy, Sup Ct, Rensselaer County, October 7, 2005, Ceresia, J., index No. 209202). Since the next subordinate officer’s receipt of the increase here is conditioned on the next subordinate officer agreeing to assume the additional duties of “acting chief” for a period not to exceed one year, General Municipal Law § 207-m, if read literally, would require that the chief similarly agree to perform the functions of “acting chief.” To fulfill this condition then, the chief, in effect, would have to act as his or her own deputy, a condition that would be impossible to meet.
We believe that such a construction of the statute should be avoided for several reasons. First, as a rule, it is presumed that the Legislature intended statutes to have practical results and, therefore, a statute should not be interpreted to require an impossibility ( see McKinney’s Statutes § 141). Moreover, if the chief’s inability to meet this condition were to bar payment to the chief, it would run counter to the underlying purpose of the statute and result in the very sort of compression of compensation sought to be avoided. Barring payment here also would lead to inconsistent results based solely on the timing of payment since the increase would be allowed under the statutory definition of “salary” if it were paid periodically, rather than in a lump sum. Such a conclusion would allow the village to avoid the statutory mandate by the simple expedient of choosing to pay the next subordinate officer in a lump sum, rather than by fixed, periodic amounts.
Accordingly, it is our opinion that, under General Municipal Law § 207-m, if the permanent full-time police officer who is a member of a bargaining unit and is the highest ranking subordinate to the police chief in a village police department receives a one-time payment of a specific amount for performing additional duties as “acting chief” for a period of one year, the police chief is entitled to a one-time payment in the same amount.
September 27, 2007
A. Thomas Levin, Esq., Village Attorney