Over the outraged objections of the Democratic minority, the Nassau County Legislature's new GOP presiding officer Monday proposed and received pay raises averaging 42 percent for himself, his deputy and the Democratic leader.
Republicans on an 11-8 party-line vote increased the compensations of Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt of Massapequa, from $67,500 to $99,500, a 47 percent hike; Deputy Presiding Officer John Ciotti of North Valley Stream, from $62,500 to $84,500, a 35 percent increase; and Democratic Minority Leader Diane Yatauro of Glen Cove, from $63,500 to $90,500, or 42 percent more. Other legislators did not get a raise.
Democrats blasted both the increases and the fact they were done without public notice, noting that the Republicans had won back control of the county legislature last year on a campaign to cut spending,
Calling the action "shameless," Yatauro said she would not take the money or, if she is forced to by law, she would give it to charity.
But Schmitt said the raises are merited. "Other local legislative bodies make much more than we do," he said. "County legislators are paid less than town council members. We're stuck [in pay] back in 1996 [when the county charter set the pay scale]."
Schmitt added that the extra money is within the budget already assigned the legislature. Ciotti did not return calls.
Republican County Executive Ed Mangano, who had been a county legislator until Jan. 1, said through spokesman Michael Martino: "This decision was made by the legislature, and we have no control over that body. In the executive branch, the county executive has cut salaries. . . . These are not times for inflated salaries."
Schmitt is correct that county legislative salaries are lower than those for Nassau town councils. In Hempstead Town, council members receive a salary of $66,000; in Oyster Bay, they get $57,500, and in North Hempstead, $40,000.
Base pay for all county legislators is $39,500. That salary is set by the county charter, which must be amended for all of them to get raises, according to Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury), a former eight-year presiding officer. The charter could be changed by a simple majority but it would not go into effect until the next election, she said. But several attempts to increase salaries over the years failed because of fears of public opposition.
However, the top legislative officials also get stipends, which are determined by the legislature, and those payments were the ones increased Monday.
When Democrats controlled the legislature, they also voted for a large pay increase for county officials. In 2007, they increased then-County Executive Thomas Suozzi's salary by 60 percent to $174,614. Suozzi had gone without a pay increase for about five years.
Yatauro and other Democratic legislators said they will hold a news conference on the issue Tuesday in Mineola. "With other responsible organizations . . . we will be calling for the raises to be halted immediately," she said.
There was much discussion about the action being added as a last-minute "procedural," an in-house matter not requiring the usual legislative process.
Reaction from local officials
"The pay raise has its merits. There hasn't been a raise in a long time. It was Peter's call, and we backed him up."
- Legis. Joseph Belesi (R-Farmingdale)
"This is just a grab for money. During the Republicans' campaigns, it was 'cut, cut cut,' now it's 'raise, raise, raise.' "
- David Denenberg (D-Merrick)
"No one opposes a reasonable raise for our elected officials, but the size of the raise and the timing is ill-advised, considering the economic conditions of the county and the state."
- Paul Kosowski of Bellmore, board member, Nassau County Civic Association
"This decision was made by the Legislature, and we have no control over that body. In the executive branch, the county executive has cut salaries from the levels of the prior administration. These are not times for inflated salaries."
- GOP County Executive Ed Mangano, through spokesman Michael Martino
"This is shameful and a slap in the public's face. How dare they give themselves pay raises? We expect change and what do we get? A shuffled deck with the same cards."
- Patrick Nicolosi, president, Elmont East End Civic Association
What they make: How Nassau lawmakers' salaries compare with those of nearby counties
Peter Schmitt, presiding officer
John Ciotti, deputy presiding officer
Diane Yatauro, Democratic minority leader
All other legislators
Deputy presiding officer $101,298
All other legislators
Board vice chairman
All other legislators