There's strong reaction to news of double-digit salary increases at Brookhaven Town Hall, NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports. Credit: Newsday Staff

The Brookhaven Town Board raised Supervisor Dan Panico's salary 21% and council members' pay by almost 24% as it took on the duties of the disbanded town planning board and abolished a separate board that weighed permits for legal accessory apartments.

The board voted 7-0 on Thursday to hike Panico’s annual pay from $135,527 to $164,000. Pay for six town council members, who are part-time employees, was boosted from $79,044 to $98,000.

The vote to increase salaries came after the town board took separate votes abolishing the seven-member planning board and five-member accessory apartment review board.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Brookhaven Town Board members voted themselves raises ranging from 21% to 24% while disbanding the planning board and accessory apartment review board.
  • Supervisor Dan Panico said the added pay is to compensate town board members for taking on planning board duties, including additional and longer meetings.
  • A civic leader said the pay raises should have been put to voters in a public referendum.

Disbanding the boards will cut red tape and create more affordable housing, town officials and business leaders have said.

Panico said Friday the town removed “12 political appointees” by disbanding the boards, adding the town would see a net annual savings of about $30,000. 

Panico said he offered to raise town board salaries because the board will do the work previously done by the planning board, such as reviews of site plans for housing, commercial and industrial projects. Site plans include issues such as building heights, parking lots, signs and lighting fixtures.

“My colleagues on the board that were elected to do X, I’m asking them to do X plus Y. It’s going to be a considerable amount of work,” Panico said. 

Town board meetings that now start at 5 p.m. will begin two hours earlier, Panico said, adding that separate meetings will be held for large developments. 

Panico, a Republican, said he didn't know how many additional town board meetings would be held. The town board currently meets two to four times a month. Republicans hold a 6-1 majority on the town board.

A civic leader, MaryAnn Johnston of Yaphank, lambasted the pay hikes Friday, saying they should have been put before voters in a public referendum.

“If you want to raise it, bring it to the people. Let them speak. It’s really unfortunate that they think so little of the populace that they do this,” said Johnston, president of Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organizations. She dismissed Panico's assertion that the added pay was for additional work.

“No one asked them to abolish the planning board,” she said.

Ken Girardin, research director with the Empire Center for Public Policy, a right-leaning Albany think tank, said more pay for more work is not an unreasonable rationale. 

“If the town is making essentially a lateral move and shifting responsibilities over, then there’s a case to be made for increasing pay with increasing time required for the job,” he said. Brookhaven's raises are less egregious than others he has seen, citing an upstate city council that gave itself retroactive raises, he said.

Brookhaven is the third town board in recent months to vote itself a raise.

The Hempstead Town Board in December voted itself 9.3% to 14% annual raises and additional automatic pay hikes tied to inflation. The Oyster Bay Town Board last month gave itself and other elected officials raises for this year ranging from $6,000 to $15,000, as well as automatic annual $1,500 and $2,500 raises starting next year.

Girardin said the timing of Brookhaven's raises was questionable.

“Even if it saves taxpayers money, it’s curious how towns come up with ideas that increase elected officials’ pay after November and not before it,” he said.

Planning board members were paid $19,200 annually The chairman was paid $29,119, according to town officials.

Planning and apartment board members were appointed by the town board.

Accessory apartment review board members were paid about $5,000 annually, Panico said, adding each board also incurred additional expenses for staff and equipment.

The town planning department will issue permits for accessory apartments previously awarded by the review board, Panico said. 

Supporters of disbanding the planning board have said the previous review process, in which the town board and planning board issued approvals months apart for the same project, slowed new construction and was at least partly responsible for high housing costs.

“Everything takes too long on Long Island,” Panico said Friday.

The new process calls for the town board to review a project's site plan at the same time it considers zoning changes for that project.

Civic and business leaders expressed support for disbanding the planning board.

Mike Florio, chief executive of the Long Island Builders Institute, said on Thursday before the town board votes that Brookhaven's lengthy review process was one of several factors that contributed to the shortage of affordable housing, adding median Long Island home prices exceed $600,000, excluding the East End.

Gail Lynch-Bailey, president of the Middle Island Civic Association, said the town board and planning board essentially duplicated one another and slowed completion of project reviews.

"Is it going to save time? Yes," she said. "Planning board approvals were a rubber stamp [for the developments], anyway."

She said she did not oppose the town board's pay hike, saying council members are "part-time people but they work full time.”

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