Nearly a year before the Islip Town board approved the layoffs of 97 employees because of a projected $10-million shortfall, Islip Town Supervisor Phil Nolan promised a pay freeze for management.
It was October 2008, and the town was preparing to raise taxes for the first time in 15 years.
"The supervisor's office and all management are taking a pay freeze for the second year in a row," Nolan said at the time, noting that there would be no raises for those groups in 2009. "We're leading by example."
A review of town payroll records shows, however, that since December, five managers have received raises totaling more than $41,000.
They include Jeanine Dillon, Nolan's chief of staff, whose salary on Feb. 2 jumped $15,100.
Nolan insists he has kept his word by refusing to institute a percentage pay increase for all managers - instead approving individual raises in three categories: where a person's job duties have expanded, where the person's salary is not commensurate with colleagues' or where he made a personal commitment when hiring someone to increase the salary at a later date.
"I have to follow through on that," Nolan said. "I can't lose my best people."
Nolan said that after the previous administration approved management pay raises of 3.5 percent in 2005 and 2006, he as supervisor voted against a lump-sum payment of $1,500 to management in 2007. Once he had a board majority, he said, he gave no percentage pay increase to management in 2008 or 2009.
Nolan said he had made exceptions for 21 individual promotions and pay raises in 2008 and eight since December - five of them raises and three, promotions. He said each was justified.
He emphasized that, overall, he has saved the town money. He said since he took office, he has reduced the budget for his own office by 41 percent and trimmed the town workforce through attrition by about 100 workers, to 865. He estimated the annual savings at $15 million when other measures - including cuts in overtime, the town fleet and wireless plans - are included.
Nevertheless, the pay raises loom as a potential lightning rod as the town prepares to eliminate as much as 10 percent of its workforce.
"It's absurd to give $15,000 raises . . . while you're contemplating layoffs," said Richard Hendershot, vice president of the town workers' union, Teamsters Local 237.
Before sending out pink slips, the town board on Sept. 15 is expected to decide how many of the 97 approved layoffs are necessary.
The town disclosed four of the salary increases after Newsday submitted a Freedom of Information Law request. But the town's response failed to disclose one of the raises: $6,100 for Assistant Town Planning Director Jeanmarie Brennan. Newsday discovered Brennan's pay raise, as well as an undisclosed management promotion, through an analysis of other payroll records. Nolan said she received the raise because her duties had expanded.
Nolan, who earns $103,500 and has not taken a raise since he was elected, said the omission was an oversight.
"Are we trying to hide anything? The answer is no, unequivocally," he said.
Nolan said three of the five raises had been stipulated in employment agreements, including that of Dillon, who he said was hired with the promise of a later raise. She now makes $103,100.
"Jeanine Dillon is a large reason why we can continue to do what we do with these reductions in staff and payroll," he said.
The town this year also promoted three managers, including deputy public works commissioner Joseph Boccio, who later resigned after town officials said he went on golf and boating trips during work hours. Boccio, who had previously worked with Nolan for the municipal services contractor Dejana Industries, was promoted on Feb. 16 to chief deputy, with a salary bump of $5,000. Nolan said he had promised Boccio a promotion once he proved himself on the job.