December 4, 2021

County legislators to debate pay raises

Cortland County Seal

At least two Cortland County legislators have indicated they will vote against raising legislators’ pay if a resolution to do so reaches the Legislature floor this month.

“I think this is disingenuous to the taxpayer,” said Legislator Beau Harbin (D-Cortland) on Wednesday. “Look at all the stuff we cut across our budget because we couldn’t afford it this year.”

The resolution that appears on the Budget and Finance Committee agenda to be discussed Tuesday would raise legislators’ salaries 1.25% each year for four years, starting in 2020. It would go to $10,667 at the end of four years from $10,150. The raise comes after county residents approved this election cycle extending the legislators’ term of office to four years from two years.

“Even a modest small increase just doesn’t wash with me,” Harbin said. “Every taxpayer I talk to thinks we’re doing a great job and deserving of it,” said Legislator George Wagner (R-Marathon, Lapeer), who proposed the raise.

“I brought it forward because I hear so often from legislators that they should be paid more,” Wagner said.

He said he heard from one legislator he did not name who said legislators should get at least what Cortlandville get — roughly $1,000 a month.

“In all honesty, I do not expect this to be passed both in Personnel and Budget and Finance (committees),” Wagner said. “I figure, let’s get this out in the open before we start four-year terms.”

The legislature adopted a resolution in 2015 that tied the legislators pay raises to that of the management compensation plan, which increases pay for county department heads and other employees, including office managers, medical advisers and secretaries.

The resolution ended up raising the legislators’ annual salary to $10,150 from $6,000. The majority and minority leaders were increased to $10,500 and the chairman to $19,000. They hadn’t had a pay raise before that since 1991, when it increased $1,000.

The new resolution would also give the chairman of the legislature a $9,000 stipend and the majority and minority leaders would each receive a $500 stipend.The additional money is not an increase.

Wagner said that although the resolution from 2015 ties legislators’ raises to that of department heads and other county employees, legislators have voted against getting the raise, even though the employees got theirs.

Legislature Chairman Kevin Whitney (R-Cortlandville) said he opposes the raise even though he will leave the legislature after this term. But even if he was staying, he said, he would have been against it.

He and Harbin said the raise shouldn’t be granted after cuts were made to departments, people were laid off, departments were already told they would need to cut their budgets for 2021 and almost $2 million was used to close the difference between increased spending but not enough revenue without raisin property taxes.

“I don’t feel it’s right and I feel it’s extremely unfortunate it’s being handled the way it is,” Whitney said. “You wait until after elections, you wait until after the budget is passed, that looks extremely poor in the public’s eyes.”