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April 4, 2020

Politics

County Legislator Catherine Borgia, D-Ossining, greets Westchester County Executive George Latimer before his annual "State of the County" speech in White Plains. On Dec. 9, Borgia was among 10 county lawmakers to approve a 52 percent pay raise.
County Legislator Catherine Borgia, D-Ossining, greets Westchester County Executive George Latimer before his annual "State of the County" speech in White Plains. On Dec. 9, Borgia was among 10 county lawmakers to approve a 52 percent pay raise. Photo Credit: Jon Craig

County Legislators Propose 52 Percent Pay Raises For Themselves: Here's Rundown Of Voting

Have you ever received a 52 percent pay raise—from $49,200 to $75,000—in one year? That adds up to a quarter-million more dollars over a decade.

That's what 10 Westchester County legislators think they should be paid each year starting next month The county Board of Legislators approved the raise this week—just three weeks after Election Day. it will be one of their final orders of business for the two-year legislative session. The raise is effective on New Year's Day 2020.

In a separate, but related development on Tuesday, Dec. 10, County Executive George Latimer signed a $2.1 billion annual budget for 2020 that cuts $1 million from the property tax levy for the first time in nine years. 

"It is a unique budget. . . .Slash and burn philosophy does not work," Latimer said. "Fiscal responsibility is necessary and critical to the future of Westchester County."

Latimer emphasized that the upcoming budget no longer relies on "one-shot" fixes, borrowing to pay for operational expenses or dipping into the so-called "rainy day" fund: Instead, Latimer's next budget adds $10 million to the emergency reserves.

"That is a responsible budget," Latimer said during this news conference, noting that he received bipartisan cooperation from Democratic and Republican legislators, who voted 15-to-1 in support of the spending plan.

During questions from reporters, Latimer pointed out that many county legislators have worked without pay raises for 15 years -- and not raising salaries will push legislators who sometimes double as lawyers in private practice -- out of public service. 

"Make sure that you write that I didn't ask for a pay increase," Latimer said.

Back to the legislators' pay raises -- Including so-called "stipends"—or extra pay for leadership positions—the combined raise for Westchester's 17 county legislators will total $499,000 in 2020 alone. And, in future years, it will significantly increase the value of each departing legislator's public retirement package. The county Board of Legislators' (BOL) chairman alone will make $120,000 next year—including his/her stipend.

The raises, which were OK'd by a self-approved vote of 10 to 6, first became public three weeks ago, after the Nov. 5 elections. 

County legislators also bypassed any independent assessment of the raises, as recommended by a county advisory board in 2005.

Legislator Gordon Burrows, a Yonkers Republican leaving public office on Dec. 31, called the fast-growing salaries ludicrous.

"Seventy-five thousand dollars is a lot of money," Burrows said. "This is supposed to be a part-time job whether you treat it as a part-time job or not."

Those supporting the raise argued that it's the board's first in 15 years. And nowadays, many county legislators tend to treat it as a full-time job, often delegating or pushing their private, outside business affairs to a back burner.

Legislator Catherine Borgia, an Ossining Democrat who chairs the legislature's Budget and Appropriations Committee, said,  “We’ve discussed this a great, great deal and we’ve come to the place where this is where we landed and this is our time to vote."

"It's never a good time, but I believe this is an appropriate time to give a pay raise to county legislators."

However, others voted "no." Among those was Legislator Nancy Barr, a Democrat from Rye Brook, who nevertheless said she believed a raise is justified because it might encourage people to run for public office even if they don't have outside income. 

"The reason I am not voting for it has to do with the amount (of money) and the timing and what I feel is the lack of discussion about the particulars," Barr said. "I would have preferred a different process."

The county raises were considered and approved without input from a Compensation Advisory Board that is required under law and is supposed to convene on even-numbered years—before lawmakers are up for election. The last time that board met was in 2008. 

The advisory board's 11-year-old recommendations were not binding, including an opinion that raises should not be voted on after elections.

Legislature Chairman Ben Boykin, a Democrat from White Plains, said that his staff compared salaries to Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island—where legislators receive higher base pay.

"We are doing this at a time when we've reduced the tax levy by a million dollars, we have a zero tax increase," Boykin said on Monday, Dec. 9. "It's never a good time, but I believe this is an appropriate time to give a pay raise to county legislators."

The $2.1 billion county budget for 2020 also was approved on Monday.

How Your Legislator Voted on Their Proposed Pay Raises

Voting For the Raise:

Catherin Borgia, D-Ossining

Ben Boykin, D-White Plains

Kitley Covill, D-Katonah

Margaret Cunzio, Conservative Party, Mount Pleasant

Chris Johnson, D-Yonkers

Mike Kaplowitz, D-Somers

Catherine Parker, D-Rye

Maryjane Shimsky, D-Hastings-on-Hudson

Alfreda Williams, D-Greenburgh

Lyndon Williams, D-Mount Vernon

Voting Against the Raise:

Nancy Barr, D-Rye Brook

Gordon Burrows, R-Yonkers

Terry Clements, D-New Rochelle

Damon Maher, D-New Rochelle

John Testa, R-Peekskill

David Tubiolo, R-Yonkers

Absent for the Pay Raise Vote:

Virginia Perez, D-Yonkers

Here is a breakdown of annual salaries and stipends: 

Base salary for each of 17 county legislators: $49,200 to $75,000

Annual Stipend Increases for Leadership Jobs: 

Chairman: $40,000 to $45,000

Vice chairwoman, majority leader, minority leader: $9,000 to $12,000

Majority whip, minority whip: $3,000 to $6,000

Legislation, Budget and Appropriations Committee chairs: $6,000 to $12,000

Other committee chairs: $3,000 to $6,000

Special Committee chairs: raises of $2,500 to $4,000