Now is not the time to hike the pay of Oneida County officials — especially the whopping raises proposed by a self-annointed salary review committee.
If county lawmakers are looking for ways to redistribute the ongoing surpluses, they should give it back to the people — not themselves. They can start by lowering the county sales tax.
The raises were proposed recently by a committee that consists of legislators themselves. That in itself is out of whack. Wouldn't it be nice if we all could determine — and vote on — our own pay raises? We're all worth more than we're paid, right?
But these are taxpayer dollars, and they're much easier to spend. That's because the public well — your pocket — never runs dry, right? Right.
The proposed raise alone for County Executive Anthony Picente — $21,131, from $114,869 to $135,000, an 18.40 percent pay hike — is nearly half of the median household income in the county. It's also a mere $10,000 less than the median household income — $31,048 — in the city of Utica, the county seat.
Other proposed pay hikes:
- All legislative positions would receive a $5,000 increase, which would bring the 20 regular legislators from $8,368 to $13,368, the chairman (Gerald Fiorini, R-7) from $21,747 to $26,747 and the majority (George Joseph, R-10) and minority (Philip Sacco, D-9) leaders from $10,038 to $15,038.
- County Comptroller Joseph J. Timpano would receive a $11,564 increase from $73,436 to $85,000.
- County Sheriff Robert Maciol would receive a $5,070 increase from $101,930 to $107,000.
- County Clerk Sandra DePerno would receive a $3,699 increase from $69,937 to $73,636.
All of the positions also will receive an annual cost-of-living increase that cannot be less than 1½ percent or more than 2½ percent.
The committee argues that Oneida County currently ranks 52 out of 57 counties in the state for legislative salary. What it doesn’t say is that Oneida County ranks first in county sales tax at 4.75 percent. (8.75 percent when you add the state’s 4 percent tax).
If leaders truly are looking out for the public good, then they'd lower that tax — something they have steadfastly refused to do.
Especially frustrating is that the higher tax was supposed to be temporary. In 2005, then-County Executive Joseph Griffo, now a state senator, initiated a 1.5 percentage point sales-tax hike, which he said was needed to fund the skyrocketing cost of Medicaid. That boosted the sales tax to 9.75 percent. A cut in the state portion of the sales tax brought the overall tax to 9.5 percent.
At the time, the county planned to gradually roll back the tax hike, with a goal of settling at 8 percent. Incremental rollbacks brought it down to 9 percent, but the increase never was completely eliminated. County leaders decided to back a reduction to 8.75 percent, and that's where it remains.
Lawmakers, however, do not appear reluctant to raise salaries. The recommendations were passed unanimously by the committee, which included co-chairmen Joseph and Sacco, Les Porter, R-6; Brian Mandryck, R-17; Emil Paparella, R-23, and Michael Clancey, D-4. Bipartisanship in its finest hour. Committee member Rose Ann Convertino (D-22) was not present. Picente now needs to include the proposed raises in his next proposed budget.
They figure now is a good time to hike their pay. None of those involved is up for election this year, so why not squeeze a little more out of the public? Come next election, the public will have forgotten all about it.
It's not to suggest that elected officials should never get a pay raise. But there must be a more objective way to do it other than by letting lawmakers vote themselves.
Some municipalities have appointed citizen committees to examine pay structures and determine salaries and increases.
At the very least, any pay increases approved by legislators should not take effect until after the next election, when voters would have an opportunity to give their "approval" or "disapproval" at the ballot box.