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'I don't know what we're hiding,' 'irresponsible': Oyster Bay residents, Dems react to raises topping $665G

Officials declined to comment Tuesday night, during or after a budget hearing, about the town board's approval of more than $665,000 in raises for 151 town employees during the pandemic. Newsday's Steve Langford reports. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara and J. Conrad Williams

Oyster Bay Town officials declined to comment Tuesday night, during or after a budget hearing, on more than $665,000 in raises given to 151 town employees amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"If you kindly contact the communications office and follow our normal procedure it would be greatly appreciated," Supervisor Joseph Saladino said in response to Newsday questions about the pay hikes.

The town board approved the raises for department heads, deputies and rank-and-file workers at meetings in May, June, July and August without disclosing them to the public as required by state Open Meetings Law. Total pay increases for the workers since 2019, including raises in the union contract, total $1 million.

Michael Margolis, a Plainview attorney, questioned why the town hadn’t made the raises public before and whether the town could afford it given the economic difficulties caused by the pandemic.

"I don’t know what we’re hiding," Margolis said during the budget hearing. "Maybe these people deserved raises, but I don’t know any business right now … that’s giving anybody a raise."

Saladino responded that the town’s finances were in good shape but did not address why the pay hikes weren’t made public.

Following Tuesday’s hearing, Councilwoman Laura Maier said "I have no comment" when asked about the raises. Councilwoman Vicki Walsh said "quite a few of them were contractual" and added "I don’t have any comment on that right now."

Councilman Steven Labriola said raises are sometimes necessary to keep department heads who might be "salary shopping" for better pay in other municipalities.

"You want to retain this talent," Labriola said, adding that the recommendations for pay increases come from commissioners and the administration.

"The administration has control over that, so we as board members, we don’t cherry-pick our vote," Labriola said. "There’s a personnel resolution and we’re voting for it or we’re voting against or we’re trying to ask for modifications."

David Mejias, town leader of the Oyster Bay Democrats, said the raises, approved by a nearly all Republican board, were irresponsible and political.

"At a time when folks are going through economic hardships, the town of Oyster Bay is spending like a drunken sailor rewarding all their political cronies," Mejias said.

Town spokesman Brian Nevin said the criticism is unwarranted.

"It’s shameful that Democrats want to criticize frontline workers who kept government running and put themselves in jeopardy by working throughout the height of the pandemic to protect the public and provide the best services on Long Island," Nevin said.

The town board passed resolutions that mentioned amendments to titles and salaries but did not include details about who received raises or how big they were. Similarly, information about raises for 87 workers approved in January 2018 didn’t become public until several weeks later.

Oyster Bay provided Newsday a list of the raises and recipients on Monday. For some, the raises were their third in 2020. Nearly two dozen top administration officials have received year-over-year pay increases of more than $10,000, town records show.

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