The Putnam Examiner

County Lawmakers Signal Pay Raise for Themselves

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Does your Putnam County legislator deserve a pay raise? That’s the question county lawmakers asked themselves last week as they continued to review the 2018 proposed budget.

During a heated week of budget review, county lawmakers debated whether they deserve a pay raise starting in 2018. Currently, county lawmakers– technically a part-time position–earn a little more than $35,000 annually. If lawmakers approved their own pay raise, they would take home $40,839 before taxes. It would make Putnam the second most lucrative place for a county legislator right behind Westchester County in this region, according to critics.

Legislature Chairwoman Ginny Nacerino was steadfast in her support for the pay increase. She said county lawmakers haven’t gotten raise in a decade. (Legislators got a $703 increase last year for a cost of living adjustment.)

Lawmakers are also entitled to the county’s health insurance plan, though some lawmakers do not take the benefit.

The increase is one percent, Nacerino said, if it were calculated on average over the last decade when the salaries remained flat. The percent pay increase from this year to next year would be close to 14 percent.

“And what is the justification for that,” Legislator Dini LoBue asked, with Nacerino replying, “Well if you don’t know the justification after nine years I don’t think I can explained it to you in 30 seconds.”

Nacerino argued legislators “underscore” their own value when they keep their pay stagnant each year. She called the additional $5,000 a “fair assessment.”

“I certainly have no reservations in advocating for an increase,” Nacerino, who has been on the legislature for five years, said. “I think we perform a very important and integral job. We spend an inordinate amount of hours doing the job.”

LoBue, who has been on the lawmaking body for nine years, pointed out that in neighboring Dutchess, county legislators receive only $15,400 annually. The population in the county is less than 300,000 and there are 25 different lawmakers.

Southeast Councilwoman Lynne Eckardt was shocked by the pay spike for legislators. She called it a “really, really big increase” at last Monday’s personnel meeting.

“So you think it’s fair if you are going to become the second highest paid within ten counties in this area, you think that’s fair?” Eckardt questioned.

Nacerino replied, “Absolutely.”

“I stand with conviction that this proposed raise is deserving for the job that we’ve done, we do and will continue to do,” Nacerino added.

At a budget review meeting Thursday, a few more residents spoke out against the possible raises. Mahopac resident Phyllis Hoenig said the pay for Dutchess legislators was dramatically less, even though the population is double that of Putnam’s. She also argued Dutchess legislators deal with “much bigger problems” than in Putnam.

She thought the pay scale was too large for a small county where lawmakers only work part-time.

“How did we ever get to such high salaries,” Hoenig said. “And this is a part- time job.”

During the budget meeting, Nacerino and LoBue once again quarreled with LoBue stating fellow lawmakers “could care less” about public comment over the pay hikes. Nacerino countered by calling LoBue’s claims “unfounded and disingenuous.” She also said LoBue’s criticism was “sour grapes” after she lost her bid for reelection during a September Republican primary.

Nacerino pointed out in past budgets when other elected officials received pay jumps, county legislators kept their salaries steady. She noted Putnam lawmakers don’t get additional monies to chair certain committees like Westchester officials do. The only lawmaker that gets more money is the chairperson of the legislature.

LoBue, the sole lawmaker to voice dissent for the proposal, said no one goes into government for big bucks and claiming there hasn’t been a pay bump in a decade isn’t a fair justification to get one this year.

Legislator Paul Jonke, who has been on the legislature for two years, said he’s never heard a county population or county budget used as yard stick for how much a salary should be. He noted Dutchess’ budget was actually less than Putnam’s even though Putnam has a smaller population.

“This little county has a higher budget than Dutchess County,” he said, when rationalizing the pay increase.

Legislator Toni Addonizio said collectively, the Dutchess legislature is paid more overall than Putnam’s because Dutchess has triple the number of lawmakers.

Legislator Carl Albano noted the county has kept the overall budget tight and that some lawmakers do work close to 40 hours weekly.

“We’re working hard,” Albano said. “I know I’m working a lot of hours.”

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