The North Hempstead Town Board approved more than $145,000 in pay raises for commissioners and secretaries -- money that a councilwoman said should be spent to improve the building department or put to use elsewhere in the town.
The board voted 6-1 Tuesday to give the 3 percent raises to 62 town officials, including senior staff and commissioners, and secretaries. These employees are not members of the town's union and do not receive the benefits of a collective bargaining agreement. There are 333 union employees in the town, and 85 exempt employees.
Dina De Giorgio, one of two Republicans on the Democratic-controlled board, opposed the measure. She said in an interview Wednesday the money would be better spent on hiring more plans examiners for the beleaguered building department, which was the subject of a 2008 corruption scandal and has since been criticized for handling applications too slowly.
De Giorgio added, "We should be spending our money on capital improvements and things we can see: infrastructure improvements versus payroll."
Supervisor Judi Bosworth defended the raises, saying they were written into the $125 million 2015 budget that had been approved unanimously by the town board last year. Separately, a capital plan was approved this year setting five years' worth of improvement projects, she said. Additional positions in the building department are budgeted for as well, Bosworth said Thursday.
"Raises were budgeted for, positions in the building department were budgeted for, infrastructure needs were budgeted for," Bosworth said. Issuing multiple raises at once, instead of at random points in the year, is a more efficient way of managing funds, she said. "It's following the plan; it's following it in an open and transparent way."
Since taking office in 2014, Bosworth has vowed to make the building department friendlier to town residents and has made changes, such as hiring a new commissioner and the first "applicant advocate" to help customers with their plans.
Town officials said last year they adopted a purchasing freeze and cut expenses as they projected a drop in sales tax revenue. Expenses for the 2015 budget were cut by $600,000.
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Town board members heatedly debated the issue of raises soon after the November 2013 election. The town board voted in more than 20 percent raises for themselves and the positions of town clerk and receiver of taxes. Bosworth, who was then the supervisor-elect, urged her future colleagues not to consider a $5,000 raise proposed for her position, and it did not go through.
De Giorgio, as a sitting councilwoman, had challenged Bosworth, then a Nassau County legislator, for supervisor last year. De Giorgio and Bosworth are up for re-election this fall for their respective council and supervisor seats.
"I'm proud of these raises," Bosworth said. "I think they're entitled to the raises, as well as our excellent union staff."
North Hempstead raises
Amount: 3 percent for 62 exempt (nonunionized) town employees
Total value: $145,675
$25,730 -- Town Attorney's Office
$20,945 -- Supervisor's Office
Source: Town documents