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After Suffolk lawmakers OKd wage freeze, some took pay raise, records show

The Suffolk County Legislature seal in the lobby

The Suffolk County Legislature seal in the lobby of the legislature building in Hauppauge, seen on Aug. 14, 2012. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

They talked of "shared sacrifice" and "leading by example," but few of the Suffolk County legislators who approved a voluntary wage freeze for elected officials actually ended up declining raises, records show.

Twelve lawmakers voted in June 2012 to allow county elected officials to decline their annual cost-of-living raises this year -- a largely symbolic measure because they already had that power. The vote came as Suffolk faced a projected $530 million deficit and layoffs of 300 rank-and-file workers.

Of the 12, only five turned down the automatic 2.8 percent increase due them in January, according to the comptroller's and legislative clerk's offices.

"I suppose they can make the argument that they were just voting to give their colleagues the opportunity, but it's pretty disingenuous to support a bill that voluntarily allows you to freeze your salary -- when you could do so without legislation -- and then turn around and not freeze it," said Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore), who voted for the wage freeze and has turned down his raises since taking office in 2010.

But Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue), who voted for the freeze and accepted his raise, said the measure was meant to prompt county unions to make cost-saving concessions. Unions later balked at a freeze, and "I would follow whatever our employees were asked to do," Calarco said.

Legislators who voted for the wage freeze program and followed through by turning down their raises were: Cilmi; Kate Browning (WF-Shirley); Kara Hahn (D-Setauket); Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon); and Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills), for total savings of $14,000. County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, is the only one of Suffolk's six countywide office holders to also take part.

Had all 24 elected officials participated in the wage freeze program, savings would have reached $81,000. Suffolk this year has a $2.7 billion budget.

The lawmakers who endorsed the wage freeze but accepted raises were: Calarco; Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai); Lou D'Amaro (D-North Babylon); DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville); Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma); Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk); and William Spencer (D-Centerport).

Gregory and D'Amaro said they'd already agreed to a voluntary "lag payroll" measure that deferred about 4 percent of their 2012 salaries until they leave county employment, and didn't feel compelled to also refuse the cost-of-living raise.

The wage freeze program for elected officials was "really a symbolic vote," meant to prompt workers to make concessions, Gregory said.

Muratore and Schneiderman didn't respond to messages seeking comment, while Anker and Spencer called their acceptance of the raises an oversight, and said that they'd attempt to rectify the situation.

Legislators who took their 2013 raises make $96,570. Browning, Hahn and Stern are paid the 2012 rate of $93,958, while Cilmi earns $91,167.

Horsley, who is paid at the 2012 level for deputy presiding officer -- $104,400 -- sponsored the wage-freeze measure. He said the legislature "wanted to share the pain" as workers were being laid off.

But Legis. Tom Barraga (R-West Islip), who voted against the wage freeze along with three other Republicans and one Democrat, has said lawmakers already had made appropriate sacrifices with the lag payroll.

Before the vote last June, Barraga, a former state assemblyman, warned colleagues that "the worst vote, as far as I'm concerned, is to vote yes," and then accept the raise.

"It sort of reminded me years ago, the fellows who used to get up on the floor of the Assembly and debate against their pay increase, yet they were the first at the payroll office to make sure the increase was in their check," Barraga said.

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