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NIFA: Wage freeze applies to appointees, too

NIFA chairman Jon Kaiman wrote to County Executive

NIFA chairman Jon Kaiman wrote to County Executive Edward Mangano Jan. 3, with a copy to County Comptroller George Maragos, that the NIFA board's assumption in ordering a wage freeze for county employees three years ago was "that all wages are to be frozen." (Oct. 9, 2013) Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

The head of Nassau's financial control board has asked County Executive Edward Mangano to rescind $800,000 in raises and benefits awarded to appointed, nonunion employees over the past year despite a three-year wage freeze imposed by the board.

Jon Kaiman, chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, wrote to Mangano Friday, with a copy to County Comptroller George Maragos, that the NIFA board's assumption in ordering a wage freeze for county employees three years ago was "that all wages are to be frozen."

Newsday reported last week that county elected officials gave out 32 raises to appointees who can be hired or fired at will, and another 25 appointees received new job titles along with increased pay -- for a total of about $800,000 in salaries and benefits. Pay for union workers remained frozen.

Mangano and other county officials justified the increases by saying the appointees had taken on additional responsibilities as the county downsized and consolidated operations. They said Nassau realized thousands of dollars in savings by eliminating budgeted positions that carried a much higher cost than the salary increases.

Officials were relying on a 2012 opinion by then-County Attorney John Ciampoli, who found that the wage freeze did not apply to nonunion workers.

But Kaiman said in his letter that he spoke to NIFA board members, counsel and staff, and "there is universal agreement about what we intended . . . as well as the negative consequences that could ensue by giving increases to selective nonunion employees."

Kaiman continued, "Accordingly, I am prepared to call the NIFA board together to address options that may be available to us in order to address this situation. Ideally, however, we will agree that rescinding any raises to nonunion employees is the best course of action at this time."

Kaiman said in an interview that the letter was intended to seek more information from Mangano to enable the board to decide "what options are available to us."

Outgoing NIFA board member George Marlin said he was prepared to make a motion at the next board meeting "that orders the county executive, the comptroller and the district attorney to rescind all raises to their respective staff members."

Mangano said he had called Kaiman Monday, and that "we're going to sit down and talk. They're misunderstanding what's occurred."

Mangano said he could not answer for other elected officials, but said his administration has "achieved saving in everything that we have done."

He said he eliminated the $130,000 job of parks commissioner as he merged parks with public works, allowing him to give raises to the new department's deputies but still save money. Similarly, seven other raises partially compensate appointees for taking on duties of eliminated positions. "We want people to understand, the irony is to rescind them [the raises] would cost county taxpayers more money," Mangano said.

Maragos gave pay increases to seven appointees, and County Clerk Maureen O'Connell gave $5,000 annual raises to each of her five deputy county clerks. Maragos said he has reduced his payroll from $7 million in 2010 to a projected $5.5 million this year. O'Connell said she had eliminated a budgeted sixth deputy.

District Attorney Kathleen Rice gave raises to 10 assistant district attorneys and 10 pay increases with title changes. A spokesman said all raises were promotions because the title "assistant district attorney" includes supervisory positions.

Nassau Police Benevolent Association president James Carver also sent a letter to Kaiman after the Newsday story appeared, asking whether NIFA had authorized the pay increases.

"If it has or if it finds such increases permissible, please inform me when PBA members can expect their contractual increases restored," Carver wrote. "If NIFA has not authorized the increases . . . please inform me what steps NIFA will be taking to remedy this violation of the state control board's stated mandate."

Carver said Monday he had yet to receive a response.

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