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Nassau pay hikes frozen until attorney weighs in

Nassau presiding officer Peter Schmitt (Jan. 3, 2006)

Nassau presiding officer Peter Schmitt (Jan. 3, 2006) Photo Credit: Newsday File /Karen Wiles Stabile

Republican Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos said Wednesday he would freeze the overall 42 percent pay raises given to county legislative leaders Monday until an opinion on the pay hikes is given by the county attorney.

"We will . . . await the results of the county attorney's review of the legality of the legislature's procedures prior to paying any increases," Maragos said in statement. His response came after a request for help from the legislature's minority leader, Diane Yatauro (D-Glen Cove).

Yatauro asked Maragos in a hand-delivered letter to determine, in consultation with county attorney John Ciampoli, "whether any raises can be given out to Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt [of Massapequa] and Deputy Presiding Officer John Ciotti [of North Valley Stream], the other two leaders, who actually voted for them."

She also asked to be able to give her raise to needy county programs that have been cut. Maragos said his office is researching "our authority to grant" Yatauro's request.

Republicans, in an 11-8 party-line vote Monday, jumped compensation for Schmitt, from $67,500 to $99,500, a 47 percent increase; Ciotti, from $62,500 to $84,500, a 35 percent increase; and Yatauro, from $63,500 to $90,500, a 42 percent pay hike. Other legislators did not get raises for the part-time job.

Democrats expressed outrage and, after the increases became public, so did many county taxpayers.

MORE: Click here to watch Nassau's Democrats express their rage

Tuesday, the Democratic legislators and members of some community groups held a news conference in protest.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano then asked for an opinion from his county attorney on the legality of the raises.

His spokesman, Michael Martino, said Wednesday that "the county attorney has been asked to give his findings no later than Wednesday."

Democrats contend that the raises should have been done by ordinance, rather than as a procedural matter. They also said that the public notice provisions of the county charter and the rules of the legislature were violated when Schmitt called the item for a vote within 30 minutes of it being filed.

Still, Yatauro also filed a resolution to repeal the raises, but Schmitt would have to put it on a legislative agenda that is controlled by the GOP lawmakers.

"We will try to repeal these raises at each and every meeting of the legislature," said Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick). "We will give them the opportunity again and again to do the right thing."

Schmitt spokesman Ed Ward said that when the presiding officer gets the resolution, "He will review it while awaiting the county attorney's opinion and will act appropriately."

The Nassau County Democratic Committee is using this pay-hike controversy as a fundraising tool.

Showing pictures and quotes of GOP legislator Schmitt and others, its Internet message says:

"Thank You Peter Schmitt. We are fighting to bring the Democratic Party back NOW! Your contributions are vital to our success. If everyone helped a little, we would win a lot! Contribute Today!"

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