MAYVILLE - Salary recommendations for elected officials will be discussed next week, and already legislators are expressing mixed feelings.
As per the county charter, a citizen's review committee is charged with making recommendations regarding salaries of elected officials. The committee meets prior to November elections to review the salaries of similar elected officials in other counties throughout the state, in order to compare them to those in Chautauqua County. The Salary Review Committee recently wrapped up meetings, and turned its recommendations in to the legislature to be voted on.
Monday, the Administrative Services Committee will be the first to review the recommendations. Thursday, the Audit and Control Committee will also review the recommendations.
The Salary Review Committee recommended that, as of Jan. 1, 2014, base salary for legislators increase from $9,000 to $12,000 per year. It also recommended the chairman of the legislature receive an additional $8,000; majority and minority leaders an additional $1,000; assistant majority and minority leaders an additional $500; each committee chairman an additional $1,000; and each ranking member of committees an additional $250.
For the county executive position, the committee recommended an annual salary of $109,480, effective Jan. 1, 2014. According to seethroughny.net, County Executive Greg Edwards received a salary of $85,000 in 2012.
The committee recommended that the county clerk position salary be $68,264, beginning Jan. 1, 2014. Sandy Sopak, current county clerk, received a salary of $53,640 in 2011, according to seethroughny.net.
The committee also recommended an increase for the position of county sheriff. In 2011, Sheriff Joseph Gerace received a salary of $83,740, according to seethroughny.net. Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, the Salary Review Committee recommended a salary of $87,450.
"What the committee did on three of them, were cost of living since the last time they got a raise. That's what they did on the county executive, clerk and the sheriff," said Legislative Chairman Jay Gould, R-Ashville. "On legislative recommendations they took, I believe, half the money they saved from going from 25 to 19 (legislators), and divided that up amongst the 19, because there will be more work."
The last time the Salary Review Commission met was in 2008, when it made two recommendations. The first recommendation had three parts: The first was that there would be no grandfathering of existing salaries or benefits based on longevity of service or current status; the second was regarding health insurance; the third increased legislator salaries from $9,000 to $10,000.
The second recommendation by the committee in 2008 suggested a reduction in the legislature, from 25 to 17 members. Additionally, the recommendation included health insurance changes. It also would increase legislator salaries from $9,000 to $15,000 if the number of legislators was decreased.
"(Last time, the recommendations) were voted down, quite strongly if I recall," Gould said.
According to Majority Leader Larry Barmore, R-Gerry, legislators have not received a salary increase in many years.
"I don't know right where I'm standing right now. I do know it has been an awful long time since any of those positions had any salary change, other than the sheriff," he said. "It's never a good time, it's never a popular thing to do, no matter what level you're at. I do know that our county executive is among, if not, the lowest-paid county executive in New York state. Our county clerk, the same situation."
Barmore suggested perhaps phasing in salary changes, rather than making them all at once, a matter he said the legislature would have to look at more closely.
Minority Leader Robert Whitney, D-Jamestown, said he did not see a problem with the proposed increase to salaries.
"I know it's a big jump, but there hasn't been a jump in how many years?" Whitney asked. "There was a lot of experience on that committee. I'm sure people are going to complain about the recommendations, but then again I don't see any primaries where everybody's trying to run now, because it's such a great deal. So, I guess I don't have a problem with it. It's not too late for somebody to jump in if they think it's a great deal."
One legislator, though, is being vocal in his opposition to the recommended salary changes.
"While I appreciate the hard work that the commission has done in this matter, I can't really, in good conscience, support any kind of pay raise for Chautauqua County elected officials," John Runkle, R-Stockton, told The Post-Journal. "It's no secret that this county is not thriving economically and jobs are being lost and companies are leaving the area because of high taxes. To suggest such things as 25 percent pay raises for county legislators in such an environment, to me, is just unreasonable. It flies in the face of what we should be doing, and that is cutting taxes and acting in a fiscally-responsible manner."
A phone call to county executive Greg Edwards was not immediately returned Friday.
The Public Facilities Committee meets Monday at 4 p.m. The Audit and Control Committee meets Thursday at 8:35 a.m. Both committees meet in room 331 of the Gerace Office Building in Mayville.