Residents protest at hearing that increases not justified
By Holly Crocco
Although a number of residents spoke out against proposed salary increases for Putnam County legislators at an Oct. 25 public hearing at the Historic Courthouse in Carmel, the legislature the next day approved the 14 percent hike as part of the 2018 budget.
The raises, the first since 2007, increase the annual salary for the part-time elected positions from $35,000 to $40,000, plus the option to purchase subsidized health insurance.
The budget was approved 6-3, with Legislators Bill Gouldman (R-Putnam Valley), Dini LoBue (R-Mahopac Falls) and Barbara Scuccimarra (R-Philipstown) voting “no.”
In a statement, Scuccimarra said the raises needed to be part of a “consistent and transparent process.”
“The 2018 budget clearly brings some issues to the table that we as the legislature need to address,” said the legislator, who represents District 1. “For me, giving ourselves, a raise wasn’t one of them.
“I believe taxpayers are entitled to know how compensation levels are determined by the county. Are our salary levels competitive, job descriptions and personnel evaluations fair and consistent?” she wrote. “I continue to be concerned by the fact that we have dedicated employees with the same job titles in various departments being paid different salaries for similar work, with little or no objective criteria stated it seems, other than who advocated on their behalf. We need a consistent and transparent process to determine compensation and evaluate job performance. That is both equitable to our workers and fair to taxpayers.”
Scuccimarra, who will co-chair the Commission on Fiscal Vision and Accountability, said it would look only at shared services but “opportunities to ensure that our county operations are efficient and accountable, as well” and suggested an independent compensation commission should be created to offer recommendations.
“How the legislative pay raise was handled is a glaring example of a process that doesn’t cut it, and why I voted against the budget,” she wrote.
At the Oct. 25 meeting, Phyllis Hoenig of Mahopac told the legislators she didn’t see how they could justify a $40,000 annual salary for lawmakers given that Putnam’s population is less than 100,000 people while Dutchess County legislators each make $15,400 annually to oversee a county of about 300,000. “When the time comes when your salaries fall behind in comparison to neighboring counties, I will be most willing to raise your salaries,” she said. “But that time is not now.”
Challen Armstrong of Southeast spoke out against all pay increases, including for county employees and department heads, including a jump of $7,000 annually for the two Board of Elections commissioners and $5,000 for the highways and facilities supervisor. She noted she hasn’t received a cost-of-living increase from Social Security in three or four years.
“I see you granting a 2.3 percent across-the-board increase to all employees,” she said. “I don’t want to deny our hardworking employees a raise, but personally, my spending power has decreased compared to the county employees. When I hear percentages of 13 percent for (legislature) board members and 17 percent for a confidential secretary [to the county executive], I’m shocked and surprised.”
Natasha Didonato of Carmel said she was appalled to hear of the raises, “considering how many people can’t pay their taxes… I’d like a part-time job that pays me $40,000 a year.”
Jerry Ravnitzky of Mahopac told legislators that if they want to make a full-time salary as lawmakers, they are in the wrong job.
“Working as a representative of the people is not the kind of thing that people ordinarily do to earn a lot of money,” he said. “It’s a service to the community and I think that’s an important thing to do. Maybe you should be in the private sector instead of working as a representative of the people. People in the private sector don’t get that kind of increase.”
Judith Ravnitzky suggested that one-party rule allows the county to operate in a vacuum.
“As Republicans, you do not have any other voice to listen to and you don’t have any reason to do anything to make a compromise, and you can vote in a block to give yourself a nice, fat improvement in your salaries – but we don’t get that,” she said. “What we’re going to get is an increase in taxes. You can just pretty much do what you feel like. I don’t feel like there is representation for anyone else, and I don’t think it’s fair.”
Prior to the budget vote, LoBue, who lost in the Republican primary to retain her seat and will be leaving the legislature, made motions to amend or eliminate the salary increases in the budget for county legislators, County Executive’s Office staff members, law department staff members, the Board of Elections commissioners, and the transportation program manager. However, her motions were not seconded.