Panel backs nearly doubling pay for county lawmakers

DAN GUZEWICH, Staff writer
Posted 10/2/17

A citizens review committee voted unanimously to nearly double the annual pay of Oneida County lawmakers beginning in January.If the recommendation makes it into the budget that is approved by the …

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Panel backs nearly doubling pay for county lawmakers

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A citizens review committee voted unanimously to nearly double the annual pay of Oneida County lawmakers beginning in January.

If the recommendation makes it into the budget that is approved by the Board of Legislators next month, the salary will go from $8,368 to $16,000, an increase of $7,632. The pay of the part-time lawmakers has remained at $8,368 since 1994.

The five-member Citizens Review Committee on Oneida County Elected Officials Compensation also supported pay hikes for the top three board leadership posts. The chairman’s pay would go from $21,747 to $28,000 ($16,000 base salary plus a $12,000 stipend). Pay for the majority and minority leaders would go from $10,038 each to $22,000 ($16,000 base salary and $6,000 stipend). 

The vote for the higher salaries was 5-0 on Sept. 26.

The legislative pay hike recommendations have been sent to County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. and Board Chairman Gerald J. Fiorini, R-7, Rome.

It will be Picente’s decision whether to put them in his budget proposal, which will be released Thursday. “This
committee concludes that an increase in the compensation for county legislator is not only necessary but is long overdue,” said the panel’s letter to Picente and Fiorini. 

It also said, “We respectfully request that the county executive and the Board of Legislators take the necessary steps to implement these recommendations.”

The committee members are:

• Chairman Robert Comis, Sherrill (appointed by the Board of Legislators’ chairman);

• Dean Dzwonkas, Westmoreland (appointed by the majority leader);

• Mitchell Ford, New Hartford (appointed by the minority leader);

• Utica College President Laura Casamento; and

• Hans Arnold, New Hartford (both Casamento and Arnold appointed by the county executive).

With the review of legislative salaries done — the committee met twice — the panel will next look at the base pay of four more elected county officials: county executive, sheriff, comptroller, and county clerk. It will likely be in time to take effect when the new year starts if that is the desire of the county executive and legislature.

In looking at legislative pay, committee members considered factors, including:

— For the 17 New York counties with populations of 100,000 to 458,000, the average compensation is $16,919 (2015 data). Oneida County’s population is about 231,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau estimate for 2016.

— For the seven counties with populations of 180,000 to 312,000, the average compensation is $17,289.

— Oneida County is the 11th largest county in the state but is the fifth lowest in legislative pay.

— The reduction of the number of lawmakers from 29 to 23 in 2012 increased the number of constituents for each legislator and the district size without any increase in compensation.

It was also noted during the committee’s discussions that taxpayer-subsidized health insurance for county legislators was eliminated several years ago. The committee did not recommend reinstating subsidized coverage.

In addition, the panel determined by a 3-2 vote against recommending an annual indexed increase to the base salary for county legislators. However, “… in the alternative, the committee strongly recommends that the Board of Legislators take the necessary steps to codify the establishment of a citizens committee to review elected officials salaries every four years.”

If the higher salaries are incorporated into the budget, legislators would not be voting on a pay raises for themselves but for the lawmakers who are selected in the November elections. They will vote on the budget after the Nov. 7 vote. All 23 seats are on the ballot this fall. However, with minor exceptions, all of the incumbents are running for another term. Incumbents are rarely denied another two-year term by voters. Besides, many of them are unopposed.

There have been several efforts to raise the base salaries of county legislators and other elected county officials over the years, but in the end they were unsuccessful. In 2016, a panel of legislators recommended an increase of $5,000 in the legislative salary.

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