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Protesters demand Hempstead officials forgo raises

Buoyed by the rollback of a pay raise for Nassau County legislative leaders, about 30 protesters demanded Tuesday that Town of Hempstead leaders rescind their pay hikes, which took effect Monday.

The protest comes four days after the new Republican majority on the county legislature promised to rescind pay hikes averaging 42 percent that it had approved for legislative leaders early last week. The initial pay hikes had sparked intense criticism from the Democratic legislative minority and community leaders.

Tuesday, protesters were targeting raises approved by the Hempstead Town Board on Dec. 15: $10,000 for Supervisor Kate Murray to $150,000; $10,000 for town Clerk Mark Bonilla to $106,500, and $4,500 each for the six council members to $66,000. Officials last received increases in 2007, just after their previous re-election cycle.

The protesters, a coalition of Democrats and Tea Party members, stood outside Town Hall Tuesday and said the raises were approved without proper public notice and were simply wrong in the current economic climate.

"We're having the worst financial situation since the Great Depression, and they're giving themselves raises. We need to tell them to give us our money back," Derek Donnelly of Merrick, an organizer, told the crowd.

Bryan Horman and Richard Stamile of the Rockville Centre Tea Party said they came because of their opposition to the raises, although they disagreed with the political philosophy of the other protesters.

"We may disagree, but this is important," Horman said as he clutched the short staff holding an American flag.

Town spokesman Mike Deery said the raises were merited, and that all public notice procedures had been properly followed.

In Oyster Bay, the town board approved similar raises on the same day the Hempstead board acted, boosting the supervisor's salary to $140,000 from $125,000 and board members' pay to $57,500 from $52,500.

However the backlash generated in Hempstead has not come to pass in Oyster Bay, although both are Republican strongholds. Salaries have been unchanged in Democratic North Hempstead since 2005.

Mike Florio, a spokesman for the Nassau County Democratic Party, said it was not behind the Hempstead protests. "This isn't a partisan issue, this is more of a populist uprising," he said. "However, the Republicans are the ones promising fiscal restraint and then fattening their own wallets with taxpayer money."

Republicans took over the majority in the 19-member legislature after winning the November election campaigning that they would cut county spending.

On Friday, the presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislature, Peter Schmitt of Massapequa, said he would roll back recent raises for the top legislative leaders, including a $32,000 boost in his stipend to bring him to $99,500.

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