Despite freeze, some Nassau workers got raises

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano. (Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.)

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Despite a three-year wage freeze imposed by Nassau's financial control board, county elected officials gave pay raises to selected appointees over the past year while union employees' salaries remained frozen.

County records show that 32 workers who can be hired and fired at will received pay hikes, ranging from $5,000 to $35,000 annually. Another 25 appointees received new job titles along with the increased pay, county comptroller records show.

Their increases amount to about $800,000 annually, including the cost of fringe benefits.

County officials were acting on an opinion from the former county attorney that the pay freeze imposed by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority in 2011 does not apply to nonunion employees.

Union leaders and some NIFA board members disagree. NIFA's own interpretation of the freeze, posted on its website, is that it covers "all county employees."

Officials including County Executive Edward Mangano said the appointees deserved raises because they took on additional duties as the administration consolidated and downsized government to save millions of dollars in operating costs.

Union leaders say their members also took on additional responsibilities as the county workforce shrank.

"Every worker in this county is doing more with less, taking on additional responsibilities," said Jerry Laricchiuta, president of the Civil Service Employees Association.

Laricchiuta said he has lost about 800 members through budget cuts, noting that more than half of the remaining 9,200 members make less than $50,000 a year.

"I'm very angry, not because people got raises," Laricchiuta said. "I'm angry because of the people who are stuck suffering in a wage freeze while other people got raises. How do you justify it?"

Police Benevolent Association president James Carver said his members also have taken on additional responsibilities, noting the police force is down by 500 cops since 2009. "This is a slap in the face to every hardworking employee in Nassau County," Carver said.

NIFA chairman Jon Kaiman said the board will ask its counsel to determine what is allowed. "We are going to explore and confirm what exactly is within the freeze as it was originally set in 2011," he said.

The state law that empowers NIFA to freeze salaries refers to "employees of the county and employees of covered organizations." The NIFA board resolution orders the suspension of "all increases in salary or wages of employees of the county, which will take effect after the date of this order pursuant to collective bargaining agreements" and other agreements.

Former County Attorney John Ciampoli issued a formal opinion in 2012 that the freeze does not apply to nonunion employees, citing the phrase "pursuant to collective bargaining agreements."

However, when the NIFA board first adopted the freeze, it posted on its website and distributed an information sheet headlined, "Frequently asked questions concerning NIFA's imposition of a wage freeze." For the question, "Who is covered by the wage freeze?" it answers: "All county employees."

NIFA board member George Marlin said he believed the freeze, requested by Mangano, covers all employees. "For the county executive and county comptroller to give raises to staff members when all other employees have been under a wage freeze for three years is in my judgment outrageous and inappropriate." He pointed out that NIFA froze its employees' wages to set an example.

County Comptroller George Maragos gave raises without any title change to seven appointees at the end of November, including a $20,000 raise to his secretary, bringing her annual salary to $130,000. County Clerk Maureen O'Connell gave $5,000 raises, effective Dec. 27, to each of her five deputy county clerks.

Maragos said he awarded the raises "in order to retain outstanding personnel." O'Connell said she is budgeted for six deputies but only has five. "In the long run, it will be less costly to the taxpayers," O'Connell said.

Both Maragos and O'Connell say they gave promotions to union workers whenever possible over the past three years to offset their freeze.

The Mangano administration gave raises to nine appointees over the year, including employees in the budget and personnel offices. The largest increases went to deputy parks commissioners Brian Nugent and Francis Camerlengo, who were both making $99,000, and deputy public works Commissioner Richard Millet, whose salary was $90,000. All three now make $125,000.

Deputy County Executive Ed Ward said the appointees have taken on extra duties as the administration downsized government. Mangano's consolidation of the parks and public works departments gives additional responsibilities to Millet, Nugent and Camerlengo while eliminating the $130,000-a-year parks commissioner job, Ward said.District Attorney Kathleen Rice also gave out 10 raises to assistant district attorneys and 10 title changes. But her spokesman said all were promotions, explaining the title "assistant district attorney" encompasses many supervisory positions, including bureau chief, deputy bureau chief and executive staff jobs.

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