Nassau town officials coy about own pay raises

Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray speaks to the

Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray speaks to the Long Island Business Council in Farmingdale. (May 9, 2013) (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

Joye Brown

Newsday columnist Joye Brown Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006.

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What a difference an election makes. And, yes, we're still talking winners and losers, but not in the way Hempstead and North Hempstead residents might think.

Both towns recently surprised residents with the news that their elected officials deserve raises.

Maybe the officials do.

Maybe the officials don't.

But neither town -- conveniently, as, alas, has become habit in most Long Island municipalities -- brought up the issue during the campaign. And neither brought it up during the public hearings when town budgets were adopted either.

Instead, in Hempstead, residents found out about proposed raises -- of between $10,000 and $5,000 for supervisor and board members -- in the silence of the lull before Thanksgiving last week.

Even then, after one resident complained about the post-election ambush during last Tuesday's town board meeting, Hempstead tried to play it coy.

The town's 2014 budget, as adopted, listed -- as it should -- contractual and other raises due union and most nonunion employees.

But the document remained stubbornly silent about the town's intent to raise salaries for Supervisor Kate Murray, town board members and other elected and appointed officials.

What makes it so bad -- and so misleading -- is that the budget did anticipate funding the raises, but with money hidden elsewhere in the document.

At least Hempstead has money enough to fund its proposed raises. In North Hempstead, officials plan on digging into the town's rainy day fund for salary increases.

And to make a bad idea -- and worse budget practice -- even worse, the town is hiding behind an appointed town supervisor, Town Attorney John Riordan, to push the politically dicey proposition through.

Perhaps that's because in North Hempstead, some of the proposed raises are big.

Really big.

For town board, salaries would jump 37.5 percent, receiver of taxes by 27.8 percent, and town clerk by 23.5 percent. The salary for North Hempstead supervisor would go up by 3.8 percent.

Contrast that with the proposed raises in Hempstead, which would increase supervisor pay by 6.67 percent and town board salaries by 7.58 percent.

That sounds comparatively small -- unless, of course, you consider that seniors on Social Security next year will receive a cost-of-living increase of 1.5 percent.

Spokesmen for Hempstead, where Republicans rule, and North Hempstead, which is dominated by Democrats, both point out that elected and other officials haven't had a raise in years.

But this isn't just about the amount of the raises.

In Hempstead, it's the old bait and switch, where just before Election Day town taxes are lowered, which makes voters happy. But then come proposed -- but planned in advance -- pay increases, which ought to make voters angry.

Still, over in North Hempstead, it gets worse, with elected officials hiding behind a town supervisor who was appointed after former Supervisor Jon Kaiman took on another job.

Riordan's got nothing to lose politically because he never ran for office. But for the town board, that's another matter.

Will they hide behind the unelected Riordan when the proposal comes up for a hearing and a vote on the same day next week? Or do the right thing by delaying the proposal until after newly elected Supervisor Judi Bosworth takes over?

Elected officials in North Hempstead and Hempstead say they deserve raises. If that's so, residents, in turn, deserve a proper vetting process that's timely and transparent.