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Smithtown board narrowly OKs raises for town administrators

Smithtown Town Hall is on Main Street in

Smithtown Town Hall is on Main Street in Smithtown on Feb. 20, 2012. Credit: Erin Geismar

Smithtown Town Board members narrowly approved a deal with the union of about 30 department heads and administrators, after two councilmen opposed some salary raises.

The town board voted 3-2 in favor of the contract -- in effect retroactively from Jan. 1, 2015, to Dec. 31, 2016 -- negotiated by Supervisor Patrick Vecchio and Smithtown Administrators Guild representatives.

Vecchio said the town saved money in the deal, reached May 5. He pointed to a $59,000 reduction of salaries for four positions, a modest 1.4 percent raise each January, and a provision that allows town officials to appoint replacements for positions vacated by retirement, resignation or promotion at a salary up to 10 percent less than that of the person leaving.

"It rewards these department heads whose performance makes the town the great town that it is," Vecchio said in an interview Wednesday. "The 1.4 percent raise . . . is well below other recent public contracts."

The agreement, obtained by Newsday, also calls for salary increases ranging from $5,000 to $7,500 -- totaling $40,000 -- for seven positions, including the animal shelter supervisor and traffic safety director.

Councilwoman Lynne C. Nowick said she voted for the contract because "when people work hard, they deserve to be rewarded." Nowick, liaison to the Smithtown Animal Shelter, which has been beset by controversy, said shelter director George Beatty sent a letter forfeiting his $5,000 raise to avoid holding up negotiations. Beatty's salary is $119,629.

Councilmen Robert Creighton and Edward Wehrheim voted against the contract, saying the raises should have been negotiated separately.

Wehrheim said he was not given a clear justification for the salary increases, with some being granted based on an assumption of additional duties.

"I don't know how you spend taxpayer money like that," he said. "If and when there were additional duties, the town board could then amend the SAG contract."

Creighton said he believed there was a conflict of interest with guild president Russell Barnett, who is also the town's environmental protection director, working with Vecchio to reach the agreement that increased his $150,491 annual salary by $5,000.

Barnett said the union president does not solely draw up the contract, but acts as spokesman for the five-member union executive board.

Barnett said he asked Vecchio for additional compensation based on his new responsibilities in renegotiating and overseeing a mechanism for sharing expenses at Smithtown and Huntington towns' joint garbage disposal plant.

Town officials have told union leaders in the past that salary changes must be negotiated in the contract, Barnett said. He added that all seven employees have already taken on additional work.

"This is not in anticipation of anything," Barnett said.

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