Approve $164.2 million in spending for 2021
Putnam legislators this week approved a $164.2 million 2021 county budget after locking up $108,000 for Sheriff’s Department road and river patrols and giving themselves raises.
The meeting agenda did not include their salary hikes, which they introduced and approved near the end of the 2-hour-plus session, conducted by audio connection on Oct. 29.
Legislator Nancy Montgomery, who represents Philipstown on the nine-member Legislature, cast the only vote against the budget after objecting strenuously to diverting Sheriff’s Department money to a contingency account. The total involved $65,000 in overtime for road patrols and $43,000 for the marine unit on the Hudson River.
Montgomery also opposed the legislative pay raise.
The Legislature’s final budget of $164,291,181 exceeds County Executive MaryEllen Odell’s draft version by $127,987, which the legislators provided by taking more from the reserve account than Odell anticipated. They kept the property tax levy at Odell’s recommended $45,561,412.
The budget takes effect Jan. 1.
The legislators voted 5-4 to increase their pay by 2.4 percent, to $41,819 annually, beginning in 2021.
The part-time legislators last gave themselves a raise in December 2017, when they boosted their salaries by 14 percent after 10 years of no increases. They also receive health benefits. (Dutchess legislators last year approved a 3 percent annual raise to their base salary of $15,450.)
“I’m not sure raises are a wise use of money at this time,” Montgomery remarked. Instead, she said, during the pandemic and associated economic struggles, Putnam should focus on families’ needs and the community. “This budget does not do that.” Legislators William Gouldman of Putnam Valley, Joseph Castellano of Brewster and Toni Addonizio of Kent, who chairs the Legislature, joined her in voting against the increase.
What They Earn
Annual salaries in 2020 of Putnam officials
Dr. Michael Nesheiwat, Commissioner of Health – $185,966
MaryEllen Odell, Putnam County Executive – $162,271
Robert L. Langley Jr., Putnam County Sheriff – $152,862
Michael Piazza, Commissioner of Social Services – $147,632
Paul Eldridge, Personnel Director – $138,487
Michael Bartolotti, Putnam County Clerk – $133,067
Michele Alfano-Sharkey, Auditor – $112,424
Catherine Croft, Board of Elections – $93,730
Anthony Scannapiecco, Board of Elections – $93,730
Several legislators also made statements endorsing the budget’s 2.4 percent raise for the county’s 140 department heads, managers and related personnel. Supporters said the hikes were appropriate so that the salaries for upper-echelon employees exceed those of subordinates. The raises include one for Putnam County Sheriff Robert Langley Jr., to $156,492, an increase of about $19,220, and for Odell, to $166,125, after beginning, about eight years ago, at $148,635.
The decision on river and road patrol funding overrode plans by Legislator Paul Jonke of Southeast, who chairs the legislative Protective Services Committee, to cover overtime by transferring money from county jail accounts and similar sources, with zero fiscal impact.
At a public hearing, also held by audio connection, three days before the budget vote, elected officials and constituents from Philipstown criticized cuts to essential services, including the Sheriff’s Department.
Like Montgomery, Langley is a Philipstown resident and Democrat.
Six days after the budget vote, Republican legislators targeted Sheriff’s Department overtime incurred over the summer.
On Oct. 29, Montgomery asserted that in refusing to transfer the $43,000 for river duty, the Legislature was “defunding the marine patrol and discontinuing the partnership with the Coast Guard and New York State Police” and others. During the COVID-19 crisis, boating has increased, she said, and the marine unit “is very important to my district. I don’t understand why we’re jeopardizing safety. It’s not the time to cut this. The Coast Guard is astounded we are making this move.”
Some legislators described the marine unit as an unnecessary expense.
The Hudson “is not in this county. I believe it’s next to this county,” Legislator Carl Albano of Carmel said. “We don’t go out of our county in any other direction to police. I don’t see the justification” for a patrol on the river, which is “a state waterway” and therefore “should be policed very well by the state.”
Montgomery replied that county jurisdiction extends into the Hudson.
Legislator Ginny Nacerino of Patterson said the marine unit relies solely on overtime funding and is “a redundancy” because of the state and Coast Guard presence. “It’s not a matter of defunding. It’s a matter of looking for efficiencies.”
Castellano, Gouldman and Jonke joined Montgomery to oppose scuttling the marine unit.
The majority similarly rejected transferring $65,000 for road-patrol overtime, although Jonke explained it reflected a 12.5 percent raise given deputies under their union contract. Langley had suggested a road patrol budget of $716,000 for 2021; Odell pared that to $520,000; Jonke’s failed compromise would have increased it to $585,000.
Questions resurfaced on Wednesday (Nov. 4) when the Legislature voted 5-4 to postpone action on three Sheriff’s Department requests to address overtime needs by transferring $28,320 from accounts at the jail, which has fewer inmates than in the past. Legislator Neal Sullivan of Carmel-Mahopac recommended holding back “until we have more information from the sheriff.” In recent weeks, he said, “we’ve asked for more complete justification, the reasons why overtime is required.” Moreover, he added, “we have $81,000 left in the  budget for road patrol overtime.”
In memos to the Legislature, Sheriff’s Department officials attributed the overtime demands, dating from July through September, to such developments as street protests, absences of deputies on military leave, COVID-19 and contract obligations.
“Overtime has been a major issue” for a decade, “even with the last sheriff,” Langley’s Republican predecessor, Albano said on Oct. 29. He said concerns include potentially high future pension outlays based on deputies’ pay and overtime today. He said the county wants consultants to review Sheriff’s Department policies and to sequester the money meanwhile. “It’s a goal to lower overtime if feasible, if it can be done in a safe way and proper manner,” he said.
“I don’t want to set money aside for consultants to come in and take it,” Montgomery responded.
Nacerino said sequestered funds remain in county coffers for eventual use. For now, she said, “is it not incumbent on this Legislature to see how we could save money? Do we just continue down an unsustainable path?”
Montgomery advocated another approach: “Hire more deputies.”
Despite sidelining the marine and road patrol funds, the legislators voted unanimously to approve other Sheriff’s Department appropriations, including $58,845 in salary increases for captains and lieutenants.
“Not one member of this Legislature wants to defund the police” and any such allegation “is a complete lie. It’s garbage,” Sullivan emphasized.
Addonizio said that at $30.8 million, even with cuts, the Sheriff’s Department and jail together represent about 20 percent of the budget.
Nacerino said she believes “wholeheartedly that all my colleagues support the Sheriff’s Department and back the blue. I feel it’s unfortunate that our allegiance” is considered synonymous with “approving everything that comes before us. It’s my hope and expectation that respect is reciprocal.”
In an Oct. 22 letter to legislators, Langley wrote that he learned of the likely marine unit cuts and other reductions 15 minutes before the draft budget went to the Legislature in early October and that he never was allowed to discuss the matter with Odell.
After the budget public hearing on Oct. 26, he thanked the public for “recognizing the shortcomings of this budget and the hard and diligent work that is done” by the Sheriff’s Department “to keep our community a safe place to live in, work in and visit, given the hurdles we must overcome on a daily basis.” He also pledged to “continue to serve the people of Putnam County faithfully as a dedicated law enforcement professional, not a politician.”