The Hempstead Town Board unanimously approved automatic raises for nine elected officials that will be tied to inflation despite objections raised by the public at a Tuesday hearing. The board also approved annual raises for the officials ranging from 9.3% to 14%, effective Jan. 1.
The board voted 7-0 to pass the proposal, making Hempstead the first town or city in Nassau County to approve automatic annual raises set to inflation.
“Most people don’t have that and I’m sure most people would like that,” Karen Montalbano, of Baldwin, told the board. Montalbano serves as the government liaison for the Baldwin Civic Association but said she was speaking on her own behalf and not the association.
Montalbano asked whether the raises would require a tax increase.
Town Supervisor Don Clavin said “no” and asked Comptroller John Mastromarino to explain from where the funds would come.
The council members will receive at least a $7,000 pay hike in 2024 and the town supervisor, clerk and receiver of taxes will receive at least $15,000 under the law the board approved. Those nine raises total $87,000.
Mastromarino said the money to pay for the raises in 2024 will come from $150,000 in contingency funds for unanticipated costs the town included in the budget passed in October.
“I would think contingency funds would be more for emergencies,” Montalbano told the board.
Montalbano later said in an interview raises for elected officials didn’t constitute an emergency.
The town’s 2024 budget includes drawing down $56 million in reserves to close a budget deficit while raising taxes by 0.6%. That budget did not include raises for elected officials as Newsday previously reported, when Clavin said discussions about raises, the first in a decade for most elected town offices, began after the budget was passed in October and after the November election.
Other residents said the board shouldn’t give raises due to what they called lack of transparency, services and appropriate fiscal management.
None of the town board members responded to concerns raised by residents.
It’s unclear whether the elected officials will get both the annual raise and raises tied to the inflation adjustment next year.
The annual inflation-pegged raises, called a cost of living adjustment, are capped at 4.9%.
Jack Libert, Clavin’s chief of staff, said last week the proposed law would be amended to make it clear that the inflation adjustment would not take effect until 2025.
But following the vote Tuesday the former state judge said, “I am told by the comptroller that it’s fine the way it is.”
Newsday also previously reported that Huntington Station-based attorney Paul Sabatino, a former counsel to the Suffolk County Legislature, who reviewed the proposed law at Newsday's request, said the law needed to be amended because it didn't contain language stating it was subject to a permissive referendum. Members of the public can force certain issues to be put on the ballot for voter approval in a process called a permissive referendum.
“My understanding is it wasn’t necessary,” Libert said of amendments to the law, but referred further questions to Town Attorney John Maccarone. Maccarone did not respond to requests for comment.
Town spokesman Greg Blower said in a statement Thursday: "The Town Board will not receive a cost of living adjustment in 2024. The first time any adjustment, if indicated, would be in 2025.”
Pegging salaries to inflation rather than passing raises from time to time will likely increase costs for taxpayers.
Had the automatic increases been in place beginning in 2013, the supervisor’s salary today would be approximately $203,000 instead of $160,000, according to Newsday calculations using the formula in the local law and inflation data from the U.S. Department of Labor.