By Holly Crocco
The Putnam County Legislature has voted to override County Executive Kevin Byrne’s vetoes of cost of living adjustments for the county clerk, sheriff and three coroners, which means those five elected officials will each receive a 2.75 percent pay increase in the 2024 county budget.
This raises the coroners’ salaries from $25,000 to $25,688, the county clerk’s salary from $144,343 to $148,312, and the sheriff’s salary from $165,816 to $170, 376.
In his originally proposed budget, Byrne did not include the COLA increases. The Legislature added them to the budget, which lawmakers approved last month. The county executive then vetoed those increases, but the Legislature used its power to override his vetoes and place the increases back in the budget.
In a letter to legislators, Byrne said he was committed to not raising pay for elected officials – a decision that “is in no way a value judgement” on their performance.
“This administration recognizes the very real financial challenges many residents face as they struggle to support their families and navigate through sky-high inflation, record-setting interest rates and overall economic uncertainty,” he wrote. “Due to many of these same challenges, the cost of government has grown, and eliminating pay raises for elected officials demonstrates our awareness of that hardship and helps solidify the county’s commitment to a fiscally-sound budget.”
Byrne said he also finds it unfair to include pay raises for elected officials while the county is still actively negotiating contracts with various unions.
However, legislators said the COLA increases for the five elected officials in question have nothing to do with union negotiation, and also called out the county executive for acting in contradiction to his stated concerns.
“For starters, the county executive secured a 3.5 percent COLA adjustment, approved by the Legislature prior to taking office in 2023, totaling $5,952, which was not in the original approved budget,” said Legislator Ginny Nacerino, R-Patterson, at the county’s Nov. 14 meeting, when the vetoes were nixed. “It was only right that he took a freeze this year. By design, he secured himself, and then made a pledge not to give increases to other elected officials. He is the highest paid county executive in Putnam County history.”
Further, she said Byrne’s concerns are disingenuous.
“It is the county executive who is growing our government,” continued Nacerino. “The county executive vetoed the Legislature’s amendment to restore COLA increases for these selected elected officials. It is the same county executive who had no problem promising a $24,000 increase for his deputy last year, after securing a $4,375 increase for him, also not in the original budget. Factoring this year’s COLA increase, the deputy will receive another $4,235, netting a $33,235 increase after being employed by the county for one year.”
Legislator Amy Sayegh, R-Mahopac Falls, voiced similar sentiments.
“Why are we tying a coroner’s salary or the county clerk’s salary to a union negotiation?” she asked. “How about we do the best for our employees and our unions by negotiation a fair contract to begin with… A fair contract is a fair contract. I find it unfair that these salaries would be tied to fair negotiating.”
Sayegh pointed out that the COLA increase for the five elected officials in question would total $11,405 – less than half of the pay increase that the deputy county executive received. She said the elected officials are being paraded around in public as “sacrificial lambs” just to make a political point.
“When these contracts are complete, all those employees under the collect bargaining agreement will receive fair compensation, while these five employees will not,” she said. “Why? Because they are elected by the people and not appointed by the county executive. Let’s be clear: Those in the administration who will be negotiating the contracts all received at least a cost of living adjustment. Some received merit raises over and above COLA.”
Legislator Greg Ellner, R-Carmel, said the decision to override the vetoes was a difficult one.
“I campaigned on no raises for elected officials, but I came from the private sector and in my entire career I never received a cost of living adjustment, so I never even factored that into the equation,” he said. “So to isolate a few employees of the county I think is wrong. The county executive made a pledge; I understand that he’s keeping up with his pledge, but I’m going to have to break mine. I’m going to have to vote to override his veto.”
Legislator Toni Addonizio, R-Kent, also defended the pay increases.
“This is not a raise,” she said. “A raise is above and beyond a cost of living increase. In New York State, the sheriff, county clerk and coroners are required to be elected positions. These are the five positions the administration believes don’t deserve a COLA increase. Why are they being penalized for being in an elected position?”
Legislator Paul Jonke, R-Brewster, pointed out that the personnel director, commission of finance, deputy county executive and county attorney all got cost of living increases.
“These are the people that are going to be on the negotiating team” for the collective bargaining units, he said. “They got their adjustment. It’s not fair to single out the sheriff, the county clerk and the coroners.”
The overrides to the vetoes passed unanimously, with Legislators Erin Crowley, R-Carmel; Bill Gouldman, R-Putnam Valley; and Nancy Montgomery, D-Philipstown, absent from the meeting.