By Holly Crocco
The Putnam County Legislature will vote on a proposal by County Executive Kevin Byrne to reorganize his administrative team, including the elimination of two positions – one in his cabinet and one in the purchasing department, the addition of two other positions in his office, and a salary hike for Deputy County Executive James Burpoe, among other adjustments.
Byrne said the changes are being proposed as a way to centralize and streamline services, and will result in a net savings of more than $64,000.
Byrne seeks to eliminate the director of constituent services position, which carried a salary of $46,600 along with $27,500 in health care coverage, and in-turn add a director of communications position at a salary of $83,000, with the candidate declining health coverage.
The county executive also proposes eliminating the unfilled “purchaser” position in the purchasing department, which carried a salary of $63,600, and which Byrne said will not be needed since the new deputy county executive will provide support to that role, using his background in the purchasing department at Orange County.
The other new position being proposed by Byrne is director of compliance and intergovernmental relations, at a salary of $75,000.
The biggest point of contention in Byrne’s proposal is a 19 percent salary hike for Burpoe, increasing the salary $24,625 for a total of $154,000. However, Burpoe is waiving health insurance coverage, which saves the county $28,000.
Byrne said the raise will put Burpoe’s salary “at a level comparable to the deputy’s prior rate of pay as office of general services commissioner with Orange County, his previous employer.”
Commissioner of Finance William Carlin said these types of adjustments are typical in a transition of power.
“We go through these very infrequently, but in the past, the Legislature has always been amenable to hearing from the county executive’s office to put forward what they see fit to run their office and bring the county into the future,” he said at the Legislature’s Jan. 30 Personnel Committee meeting.
Committee Chairman Paul Jonke, R-Brewster, said he supports Byrne’s proposal. “As an incoming county executive, he should have the right to structure his staff in a way he sees necessary and a way he sees fit,” he said.
Legislator Ginny Nacerino, R-Patterson, praised Byrne for his innovative ways to seek efficiencies, but in a statement said she “cannot sanction a $24,000 pay adjustment for the deputy county executive position,” simply to bring him to the level he was making over the river.
Nacerino pointed out that the Legislature last year approved a 3.5 percent increase for governmental salaries across the board as part of the 2023 budget, which raised the salary for the deputy county executive by $4,375 – which Burpoe accepted. She said taxpayers should not be paying for “such an ambitious pay hike” for employees weeks after coming on board.
“A 2023 increase was allotted before they even assumed their positions – was that not enough?” she asked. “We are being asked to improve a substantial increase out of the gate, with no time invested and no proven demonstration of skills.”
Nacerino also said that allowing employees to use their lack of need for medical coverage as a bargaining chip to request a pay raise is a slippery slope
Byrne noted that the 3.5 salary increase was proposed by the previous administration and approved by the Legislature before he even took office.
He also said Burpoe has more than 14 years of county government experience. “He’s not coming in here as someone who’s band new,” he said. Some of that experience will be used to support the purchasing department, hence the elimination of the “purchaser” position.
Byrne said that, in prior practice, positions have been created that were filled by people from other departments, who would get paid from both lines. “I don’t think that’s very transparent,” he said, noting that he is simply listing Burpoe’s compensation as one salary.
Legislator Tony Addonizio, R-Kent, said she cannot justify to constituents the salary increase for the deputy county executive, pointing out that it took six years for former Deputy County Executive Bruce Walker to achieve a $5,833 pay raise.
“I believe this could have a rippling effect that could affect our county financially,” she said. “There’s the argument that when employes do decline their health care benefits they can ask for a raise now.”
Further, she pointed out that Putnam County has a $164 million budget, while Orange County has a $897 million budget – hence the higher salaries in Orange County.
Legislator Amy Sayegh, R-Mahopac Falls, also said she cannot support the pay increase for the deputy county executive.
“We cannot make him whole, based on his salary in Orange County,” she said. “We cannot put that on the backs of Putnam County taxpayers, to make a candidate whole because they switched positions… I would be happy to look at this next year and say, ‘Look at what this deputy has done for Putnam County. We’ve never seen this before – they’ve saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars.’”
Sayegh also asked what happens if the pay hike is approved and then Burpoe later decides he does, in fact, need health care coverage.
In that case, Commissioner Carlin the Legislature can make an adjustment.
“You hold the purse – there’s nothing that could hurt you in terms of that,” he said. “If the insurance coverage (associated with the position) changes – and it changes for people all the time – you can adjust accordingly.”
Further, he said whether the county is paying for Burpoe’s health insurance should not be the primary driver for how legislators vote on the proposal.
“The candidate has a unique knowledge and skillset that helps with years of government experience in purchasing that is producing a general savings throughout the county, and will probably continue to do so,” said Carlin. “I would just put the health insurance off to the side.”
Both the Personnel Committee and Audit Committee approved the proposal, which moves it forward to the full Legislature for a vote this week.