Madeline Singas awarded nearly $800,000 in pay raises to 180 nonunion staff members on Jan. 1, the day she took over as Nassau County district attorney, according to new county payroll data.
The salary hikes, which averaged more than 5 percent per employee, or $4,430, come as the county remains under the control of a state monitoring board and faces a potential $80 million deficit in 2016.
Singas, a Democrat who served as acting district attorney before her election, also received an $8,000 pay increase, set by law, to $174,000, when she took the permanent position, according to records from Comptroller George Maragos’ office.
Singas spokesman Shams Tarek defended the raises.
Tarek said Nassau assistant district attorneys have lower starting salaries — $57,000 — than those in every DA’s office in the region and that they make significantly less than attorneys in the private sector. Starting salaries are $62,405 in Suffolk County and $62,500 in New York City, according to data Tarek provided.
“It’s critical that the office offers competitive salaries in order to maintain a roster of experienced attorneys and staff to help prosecute the most dangerous criminals represented by the most experienced defense teams,” said Tarek, who received a $4,950 pay increase, to $136,950.
“On average, prosecutors remain the lowest-paid law enforcement professionals in Nassau County despite the fact that most starting ADAs have accrued more than $100,000 in educational debt for their training,” Tarek said.
Maragos said he was “concerned” with the both the size and scope of the DA’s pay hikes
“At a time when the county is under fiscal stress, it is incumbent on elected officials to temper their spending and hopefully find savings where they can,” said Maragos. He added that Singas, as an elected official, can spend her budget as she sees fit.
Nassau Interim Finance Authority Chairman Jon Kaiman said the raises appear to be covered in the district attorney’s budget, which increased from $34.6 million in 2015 to $36.1 million in 2016, according to county budget documents.
“Departmental spending under budget lines approved by the county legislature fall under the policy and administrative decisions that are made by our elected officials,” Kaiman said.
The raises went to 173 assistant district attorneys, a chief investigator, two deputy chief investigators, a chief administrative officer, a public information officer and two secretaries.
In all, Singas approved $797,558 in salary hikes, the data shows.
The average pay hike exceeded contractual raises for Nassau’s union employees negotiated under labor deals reached in 2014 after a three-year wage freeze. Members of Civil Service Employees Association and police unions received hikes of 3.75 percent, plus step increases last year.
“People deserve to earn more money as the cost of living goes up,” said CSEA president Jerry Laricchiuta. “But they should stick with the raises given to the public unions.”
Tarek said most nonunion employees in the district attorney’s office received a cost of living increase of about 3.75 percent. He said the overall average raise was higher because 11 employees received significantly larger increases because of job promotions, while employees with salaries below $75,000 received an additional $1,000 increase.
The largest raise in the DA’s office — $29,000 — went to Assistant District Attorney Kara Ruisi, whose salary increased to $115,000.
ADA Jed Painter received a $28,000 increase.
Tarek said Ruisi was promoted to Deputy Chief of the District Court Bureau, and Painter was promoted to counsel to the district attorney.
The independent Office of Legislative Budget Review was the only other county office or department to approve across-the-board pay hikes to ordinance or nonunion employees during the first two weeks of 2016, comptroller show. The eight OLBR employees got raises averaging $2,900, or 3.75 percent.
OLBR director Maurice Chalmers said the salary increases were budgeted and in line with the raises given to CSEA employees.
Payroll records show that Singas last year awarded hikes — all through promotions — averaging nearly 10 percent, or almost $7,000, to 31 DA staffers. All but six of those employees also got pay hikes in 2016.
Singas took over the district attorney’s office on an acting basis at the start of 2015 after Democrat Kathleen Rice was elected to Congress. Singas was elected to a full four-year term in November, defeating Republican Kate Murray.