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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Municipal raises aren’t helping LI’s unbalanced budgets

Babylon Village Mayor Ralph Scordino is seen on

Babylon Village Mayor Ralph Scordino is seen on Nov. 12, 2015. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

“This is the way we’ve always done it,” Ralph Scordino said when asked about raises for nonunion employees in Babylon Village — more than $190,000 in increases that were neither publicly discussed nor publicly approved, until after a Newsday reporter made inquiries.

Scordino, mayor for 14 years, ought to know how things work in his village. But Babylon’s hardly the only municipality these days attracting scrutiny over how it handles nonunion raises.

In Nassau, raises for nonunion county employees — many of whom are political appointees — are awarded at the discretion of County Executive Edward Mangano, or the top officials at individual departments and agencies.

According to a Newsday report last month, more than three-quarters of the county’s nonunion workers got raises totaling $3.5 million last year — in a county with a fiscal control board due to chronic budget deficits. Most of the raises were in District Attorney Madeline Singas’ office. She said she needs to offer higher salaries to be competitive in hiring lawyers.

In the past, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the county’s financial control board, froze union salaries at Mangano’s request to slow increases in spending. For a time, salaries for nonunion employees in the county executive’s office were frozen, too.

Brian Nevin, a spokesman for Mangano, said Friday that last year’s round of increases for nonunion workers in the administration was only the second in eight years. The county legislature, board of elections and other elected officials handle their raises separately.

Even so, NIFA chairman Adam Barsky said raises for nonunion staff shouldn’t exceed the rate of inflation, which was only 2 percent last year. Still, nonunion raises in Nassau in 2016 averaged $6,325, or 7.3 percent, county comptroller records show.

Blair Horner, executive director of the nonprofit Public Interest Research Group, criticized the hikes. “Giving out raises, behind closed doors without public input, only exacerbates public cynicism,” Horner said. He noted last year’s arrest of Mangano on federal corruption charges, including receiving bribes from a businessman who allegedly gave Mangano’s wife, Linda, a no-show job. The Manganos have pleaded not guilty.

Last month, officials in Suffolk told Newsday that nonunion employees in 2016 received the same percentage raises as members of the Association of Municipal Employees, the county’s largest union. The statement tying the two together suggests that Suffolk — unlike Nassau — has little leeway in deciding how high hikes for nonunion employees will be.

But while Suffolk has followed the contours of AME contracts to set nonunion raises in the past, it’s under no obligation to do so. Dennis Cohen, County Executive Steve Bellone’s chief deputy, said Suffolk has the “discretion to not follow AME’s contract . . . which is why the county executive has a resolution before the legislature to freeze” some nonunion increases.

In Suffolk — unlike in Nassau, or most other municipalities, for that matter — nonunion employees get additional compensation each year via step increases (which elected officials do not receive). Steve Levy, Suffolk’s former county executive — whose veto of a measure to award steps to nonunion workers was overturned by lawmakers — called such increases “secret raises.” Levy, a Republican, said he supports efforts by Bellone, a Democrat, to end them.

The county, again, like Nassau, is struggling with budgets that are structurally unbalanced — that is, where revenues do not keep up with expenses. Nonetheless, Suffolk awarded average 6.2 percent raises to nonunion workers last year.

In Babylon, meanwhile, the village board approved the $190,000 in raises without budgeting the increases, or disclosing them publicly. Because of the hikes and other expenses, Scordino told Newsday that at some point, “We’ll probably have to raise taxes.”

Which is usually a predictable result of Long Island municipalities’ continuing to do things the way they’ve “always done it.”

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