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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Legality of retroactive pay raises for Nassau political appointees questioned

Nassau Comptroller George Maragos urged all fellow elected

Nassau Comptroller George Maragos urged all fellow elected county officials to cap pay raises to their appointees at a maximum 8 percent, as the county attorney warned that retroactive pay hikes for nonunion employees are unconstitutional. Credit: Howard Schnapp

There's a memo from outside counsel floating around Nassau that says retroactive raises to political appointees violate the state constitution.

What's interesting is that county officials initially said the document did not exist.

Actually, to be fair, officials said a legal decision on retroactive raises did not exist. And, OK, so there's no decision.

But there is a memo.

And it notes a New York State comptroller's office finding that retroactive pay increases to nonunion public officials violate the state constitution's ban on gifts of public money.

That ought to be enough for County Executive Edward Mangano to block raises for Republican and Democratic elections board commissioners, rather than letting them go into effect without his signature.

But that's not likely to happen.

Those increases weigh in at a whopping 31 percent, with salary hikes from $128,000 to $168,000. In addition, county lawmakers, who approved the increases on Nov. 17, made them retroactive to July -- which is before a state control board lifted a wage freeze on Nassau's nonunion employees.

As it is, residents are bristling at revenue-grabbing school-zone speed cameras and an upcoming 3.4 percent increase in the county portion of the property tax.

These generous raises will generate even more heat -- and to think, there probably are other raises for Nassau's political employees to come.

On Nov. 21, George Maragos, the county comptroller, sent out his own memo to fellow elected officials, saying that nonunion increases ought to be held to 8 percent.

Some officials, according to a Newsday report, suggested that the Maragos memo went out as a reaction to a request by outgoing District Attorney Kathleen Rice, who is going to Congress, to give large retroactive raises to attorneys in her office -- which her spokesman denied.

It's yet to be determined whether other elected officials, including Democrats and Republicans in the legislature or the county clerk's office, also will give big raises to their political appointees.

Or whether those raises also would be retroactive.

But just as one point of comparison -- and an apt one in a region with a rapidly aging population -- monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits are slated for a 1.7 percent cost of living increase next year.

Not 8.

And certainly not 31 percent.

One more:

Overall, salaries for Nassau employees are slated to increase by $39.7 million next year -- which is more than the $31 million the county will receive from the property tax increase.

That means Nassau residents will be paying higher taxes, for the county's smallest workforce in decades -- even as the level of some services declines.

And that they will be paying for increases for election commissioners going forward -- as well as backward to July.

What does the state control board overseeing Nassau finances make of this? Jon Kaiman, chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, said NIFA would leave those decisions to county officials rather than weighing in itself.

But wait.

Let's go back to the memo from the outside counsel to County Attorney Carnell Foskey -- which concluded that "retroactive wage increases to elected officials, public officers, department heads and commissioners are not permissible."

That seems clear.

Doesn't it?

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