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Audit: Oceanside son, dad earn over $1M from taxpayers

The Oceanside Sanitation Department, where Charles Scarlata is

The Oceanside Sanitation Department, where Charles Scarlata is a supervisor. (Oct. 29, 2009) Photo Credit: Kathy Kmonicek

In three years, Oceanside garbage supervisor Charles Scarlata earned a whopping $667,163 in public pay and benefits, making him one of the most highly compensated public officials on Long Island, according to an audit by the Nassau County Comptroller's office.

The audit also shows that Scarlata, 51, will receive a $25,000-a-year payment from Sanitary District 7 for 15 years after he leaves the district -- a deferred compensation package currently worth $299,530.

Included in his pay package is a $450-a-year sNo. 4: hoe and optical allowance. Scarlata also receives the use of a 2007 Chevrolet Trailblazer provided to him by the district and five weeks vacation a year. Thursday, a 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe registered to the district was parked in front of Scarlata's Oceanside home.

The audit is the most recent in a series of reviews by Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman of special districts, the tiny units of government that provide services such as garbage pickup and water hookups to specific areas. In recent years, special districts have come under fire for spending and patronage abuses.

 Family ties
If Scarlata has any questions about the job, all he has to do is turn to his father, Oceanside Republican Club leader Michael Scarlata, 75, who held the post before him.

Although Michael Scarlata retired from the district in December 1998 with an annual pension of about $75,000, he returned two days later as a part-time consultant for the district, making an additional $62,000 a year, plus health benefits, according to the audit.

All told, the father and son cost the taxpayers more than $1 million in pay and benefits from the sanitary district from 2006 through 2008, the years examined by the audit, Weitzman said. District taxpayers pay $676 a year in garbage taxes; the average in Hempstead town is $420.

"Taxpayers have financed a million-dollar family," he said.

When told of the audit's findings, Jeff Tierney, a director of the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce, said, "That's really a slap in the face. How does it get to this point? Who's in charge?"

Neither Charles nor Michael Scarlata returned calls for comment Thursday.

 Resistance to probe
Weitzman's audit shows his office's work in the district was not easy. Auditors encountered stiff resistance from Charles Scarlata, who at times was "verbally hostile and abusive," according to the report.

Three auditors got flat tires while at the district, said Weitzman's spokeswoman, Carole Trottere. After finishing their review, they reported the flat tires and referred the audit to the Nassau County district attorney's office. A spokesman for Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice said the office is reviewing the audit.

Weitzman, a Democrat who is running for re-election, said the release of the audit has nothing to do with Tuesday's election.

He said he released it immediately after getting the district's response this week. In the response, district officials defended their operations, but agreed to consider some of the comptroller's recommendations.

The district's attorney, Jerome Cline of Lynbrook, did not return a call Thursday seeking comment for this story.

The audit highlights the district's extraordinary pay structure, which benefits select administrators, but pays far less to the people who actually pick up the garbage, Weitzman said.

For example, in 2008, Charles Scarlata was paid $224,569 to supervise roughly 55 employees. He was able to add $51,748 to his base salary of $146,245 by receiving payment for 92 comp days, which the audit said was for working extra hours.

Additional benefits -- among them a $10,000 bonus, and health and dental insurance -- boosted his total compensation package for that year to $240,769, the audit said. By comparison, sanitation workers make from $17,000 to $79,550 a year, according to records.

Moreover, district administrators are entitled to up to 800 days of termination pay -- or about 3½ years of salary -- when they leave. Laborers get up to 250 days, according to the audit.

Because Charles Scarlata was the only employee whose payments for comp time were included in salary reports to the New York State retirement system, his pension upon retiring will be approximately $124,000 a year, auditors said.

Scarlata's father, Michael, has long been active in the Nassau Republican Party. He has served on the party's executive committee and contributed to various Republican campaigns, according to records. One of the district's commissioners, Seymour Mensch, helps run the Oceanside Republican club with him, according to the county party's Web site.

Despite continuing to work as a district consultant, Michael Scarlata has no contract. Officials refused to provide auditors a written summary of his work, but said he fields requests from local community groups, responds to problems at schools and helps with labor negotiations, the audit said.

Nepotism is rampant, the audit said, with at least eight employees who appear to have family ties. "Sanitary District No. 7 has become the local family business on the public payroll," Weitzman said.

Joseph Troiano, who is active with Residents for Efficient Special Districts, a civic group pushing for reforms, said, "This stuff just has to stop. It's very unfair to the unsuspecting taxpayers."

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