Putnam Legislators Lock Up Sheriff’s Funds, Give Themselves a Raise

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. 

Legislative raises

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.

Sheriff’s Department 

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 [2020] 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.”

5 thoughts on “Putnam Legislators Lock Up Sheriff’s Funds, Give Themselves a Raise

  1. In your article you refer to a raise for Sheriff Robert L. Langley Jr. I want to be clear that this raise was not requested by me and that the raise was put into the budget by the County Executive. I personally believe no elected official should receive a raise for 2021. Further, it is my opinion that any and all raises for elected officials should be done in the form of a public referendum. This would allow the public the opportunity to be directly involved with the salaries of those who serve them.

  2. Nacerino: “Is it not incumbent on this legislature to save money?”

    Answer: Apparently in every area EXCEPT when it comes to your own raises, huh?

    Albano noted, “The Hudson is not in this County, it is next to it.”

    Answer: Apart from the county residents who use it, perhaps it might be intelligent to look at exactly where the county line falls with regard to the river.

    The Legislature has expressed opinions after debate about things wellL outside the County pervue, as in CSX Unit ethanol trains traveling along the west shore of the Hudson River (a single example of many easily found).

    Be consistent. To do otherwise suggests you are looking to use the defunding of public-safety agencies (as in the Marine Patrol and road patrol overtime) in order to fund the raises you all vote yourselves without any benefit of outside oversight.

    Unlike the Legislature, public safety is not designed as a part-time obligation. Adequate police patrols and corrections staffing, along with support from 911 and police dispatchers, must be maintained at every hour of the day throughout every day of the year. Accidents, crime, fire, EMS calls, domestic issues and the like take place every day at undetermined times and staffing is already spread too thinly. I know this from firsthand experience of some 15 years. Emergencies don’t wait for “their turn” and often there is more than one ongoing at any given time for various agencies.

    Staff are contractually permitted days off, the use of vacation and sick days. Shifts at the jail, on the road, or in support of same, must be covered 24/7, 365 days a year. And a county legislator actually claims not to know why “overtime is required?”

    You are elected officials, not placed in a position of responsibility for your own benefit, but to meet the needs of the public whom you claim to serve. Lead by example. If these are indeed difficult financial times, forgo your own personal gain and benefit to at least the same degree you ask it of your constituents and county employees, particularly (though not exclusively) in the vital area of public safety.

  3. In attempting to defend their self-serving budget proposals, both Putnam County Executive Mary Ellen Odell and Legislative Chairwoman Toni Addonizio revealed the mantra that the Legislature will wield against Democrat Sheriff Robert Langley when he runs for reelection.

    Addonizio chirped “budget mismanagement should not be confused with our funding.” Odell echoed the statement and added “of the law enforcement agency.” Odell further offered a smorgasbord sampling of overtime facts and figures within the Sheriff’s Department, seeking to paint a portrait of Sheriff’s deputies as overpaid, overtime grabbing police officers.

    Overtime in law enforcement is not a planned activity. Stuff happens and when stuff happens in law enforcement, you had better be ready to plug the holes, here and there, if you wish to maintain proper public safety. You do not send one less fire engine to a blaze because you might be down an engine driver.

    The two Republican politicians, along with their cohorts on the 8-1 Republican dominated legislature, do not seem able to recognize the obvious fact that a Democrat, like Langley, can perform a superior, competent job in Republican Putnam. In the process, these folks put the county population on a much less safe foundation with their budget cuts and party-over-county perspectives. As citizens of the county, we need to perceive the partisanship for what it is and how it should have no place in the application of law enforcement in our county.

  4. Recently, there have been false and erroneous statements circulating regarding law enforcement and the 2021 county budget, and I appreciate the opportunity to correct the record. In public meetings, some people have characterized this budget as “defunding the police.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Even as families across Putnam experience financial difficulties as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will not jeopardize public safety.

    Indeed, the Putnam County 2021 budget contains $30.8 million for the Sheriff’s Department, an increase of $763,000 from the adopted 2020 budget. A full 19 percent of the entire 2021 adopted budget is allocated to the Sheriff’s Department. Budget mismanagement should not be confused with our funding of the law enforcement agency.

    While the county Legislature and I dedicate a major portion of the budget to law enforcement, we have a duty to see that taxpayer funds are spent wisely. Our focus on overtime spending has never been more necessary, especially due to the devastating economic effects resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Here are the facts about Sheriff’s Department overtime:

    • In 2019, a total of $2.8 million was spent on overtime incurred by deputy sheriffs and corrections officers;
    • Due to overtime, 48 of the top 100 highest paid county employees in 2019 were deputy sheriffs;
    • The top 48 deputies earned an average of $128,430 each;
    • Three deputy sheriffs earned more than Sheriff Robert Langley;
    • Five deputy sheriffs earned between $50,000 and $77,000 in overtime alone in 2019.

    And, these numbers are calculated before the Sheriff’s Department’s new 2020 contract settlement, which included significant raises.

    In addition, we are reducing funding for the Marine Unit, which Sheriff Langley has chosen to run entirely through overtime. The unit will no longer patrol in places where its service is duplicated by other agencies. Why should Putnam County taxpayers pay to patrol the Hudson River, which is not in the county’s jurisdiction and which the State of New York and the Coast Guard patrol as well? Likewise, we are ending the sheriff deputies’ patrol of Lake Mahopac, which the Town of Carmel Police also patrol. The Marine Unit will continue to patrol Lake Oscawana, as it is the only agency to do so.

    I am not disparaging the efforts of the hardworking men and women of the Sheriff’s Department, but overtime costs need to managed in every department or they continue to grow.

    There’s no question this is a tough budget year. We have kept the spending increase in the 2021 county budget to less than 1 percent even as we avoided layoffs and met our fiscal and social responsibilities to all of our constituents.

    False narratives about “defunding the police” are not only untrue, but detract from the hard work that employees in every Putnam County department have done and will continue to do during these unprecedented times.

    Odell is the Putnam County executive.

  5. Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell alleges “there have been false and erroneous statements circulating regarding law enforcement and the 2021 county budget.” She claims that allegations that she “defunded” the police are untrue.

    I guess the county executive does not know the meaning of the word defund. Defund means “prevent from continuing to receive funds.” In the budget that the county executive submitted, she, among other things, defunded a sergeant’s position and cut the Marine Patrol budget. Despite her protestations, the people of Putnam County can clearly see what has taken place to the Sheriff’s Department budget at the hands of the county executive and by a majority of members of the Legislature: personal politics over public safety. The county officials who supported these outlandish cuts to public safety seem to forget they work for the taxpayers of Putnam County, who deserve better, not less, police services.

    The release further states that families across Putnam County have experienced financial difficulties due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Apparently, Legislative Deputy Chair Neal Sullivan does not seem to think so. After not restoring the Marine unit and other budget transfers for the Sheriff’s Department, Sullivan made a proposal and motion to give a raise to all the legislators under “other business” during the budget meeting on Oct. 29. This was seconded by Legislator Ginny Nacerino. This was an increase which was not put on the agenda but placed under “other business” to hide it from the people of Putnam County with no transparency to the taxpayers. All but two legislators voted yes for these raises with Legislators Montgomery and Castellano voting against the raise. It is disingenuous for the Legislature to reduce police services while at the same time giving themselves a raise.

    The county executive further alleges budget mismanagement by the Sheriff’s Office, especially regarding the patrol-overtime budget. This is an outlandish and unsupported accusation. The Sheriff’s Department has followed a long precedent in managing the budget that was never questioned under the past two administrations. It seems that standard business practices that were acceptable under past administrations now only raise questioning by the county when the duly elected sheriff does not share the same party line. The Sheriff’s Office puts the people first to ensure their safety and constitutional rights. This sheriff does not play personal politics with public safety or any aspect of the office.

    The county is not even following its own memorandum regarding unnecessary spending when advising that spending should be only for essential services. Why then do a major construction project to build new restrooms at Tilly Foster at a cost exceeding three quarters of a million dollars, a project that is still ongoing? That is clearly not fiscally responsible nor good management when funding is being cut to public safety.

    The Sheriff’s Department operates 24/7/365 and is responsible for providing police services in towns and villages that do not have their own police department. Additionally, the Sheriff’s Department responds to emergencies and various situations in towns that have dedicated policing along with providing backup and support services to these police agencies countywide. The Sheriff’s Department also maintains a jail and a civil division.

    If the county would allow for the hiring of more deputies, it would reduce a large portion of overtime for shift coverage. However, overtime is substantially cheaper to the taxpayer since no additional benefits packages are needed as with new hires. There are many situations that create overtime in the Sheriff’s Department such as shift coverage due to the lack of staffing resulting from retirements, illness, line of duty injuries, family emergencies, vacations, personal days, compensatory time off, military leave, arrest processing, court appearances, emergency calls near the end of a tour and training.

    Another enormous expense is the Municipal Police Training Counsel that each newly hired deputy is required to complete at an approved police academy. In addition, they must also do a requisite amount of field training. This is an eight month plus process to complete. Currently, we have two new deputies in the Police Academy and interim coverage is needed for what would be their shifts. We can go on with reasons overtime is generated and the bottom line is this is an essential public safety service. To ensure public safety and the safety of our deputies there is a minimum number of patrols maintained that often require to be filled on overtime.

    As for the allegation that $2.8 million was spent on overtime incurred by deputy sheriffs and corrections officers, perhaps it would be fair for the county executive to provide the amount put back into the county fund through chargebacks and what is reimbursed by the state. It is correct to say that 48 deputies earned an average of $128,430 in salary and overtime. Those individuals, however, work long hours in often dangerous conditions to earn that compensation. They are not given additional job titles to increase their compensation at taxpayer’s expense.

    It is true that three deputy sheriffs earned more than Sheriff Langley. These are hourly waged employees unlike management and elected officials who do not receive overtime compensation because their salaries are fixed. The fact that deputies made more than the salaried position of the sheriff says that these outstanding members of the Department are dedicated to serving the community and this agency. There are several who work available overtime while many prefer to dedicate their time off to their families and friends. Similar to other police departments we depend on these members to provide the shift coverage required to maintain adequate public safety.

    It is important to understand that all overtime is equalized among the members. Overtime is assigned on a rotational basis, which means that the last person to work an overtime position goes to the back of the list before being assigned their next overtime assignment. The list must rotate throughout all the deputies volunteering before a member is again eligible to be assigned another overtime shift. It is a fair and equitable system that provides the same overtime opportunities for all members.

    The county executive, in her proposed budget, eliminated the funding for Marine Patrols on the Hudson River. The Marine Patrol Unit was established on the Hudson River and Lake Oscawana in 1998 by then Sheriff Robert Thoubboron to patrol these bodies of water in Putnam County. Note that the Hudson River shorelines have been a part of Putnam County since its birth in 1812. The New York State Park Department provides the boats that the Sheriff’s Office uses at no cost to the county with the stipulation that we patrol the Hudson Valley waterway. The Marine Patrol has always been funded through overtime since its inception. Of note is that the state reimburses the county 50 percent of the overtime costs required to provide public safety on the Putnam County waterways.

    The Marine Patrol continued to operate on overtime throughout the entire administration of Sheriff Donald Smith (16 years) unchallenged by county officials. Although other agencies may have marine units, they are not dedicated to Putnam County and there is no overlap of services. As a factual matter, the Sheriff’s Department is most often the first and only responder to marine incidents. It has responded to numerous incidents throughout the years including, but not limited to, security related to September 11 and ongoing terrorist threats throughout the Hudson Valley, the recovery of bodies from the waterways, personal injury incidents and other boat accidents, searches for suspects and evidence, and safety checks and education to boaters. The mere presence of the Marine Patrol in these waters is critical in ensuring that boaters operate their boats safely and legally.

    Since 2007, the Marine Patrol has participated in Homeland Security training and drills with the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S Customs, most notably Operation Small Fry. During these drills members of these federal agencies ride with the Marine Patrol on our boats to seek out foreign flagged and domestic vessels checking for proper documentation. Other drills have included operations to see if it is possible to shut down river traffic in an emergency with neighboring county and state agencies participating.

    One can only question the motive for eliminating the Marine Patrol of the Hudson River given the history and vital services it provides to keep residents and visitors to Putnam County safe.

    Additionally, the position of civil sergeant, which has been in existence for more than 30 years, has been eliminated in the 2021 budget without even an explanation to the Sheriff’s Department. The position was not funded in the 2021 budget despite the fact that it is currently not vacant and may result in a layoff in January. Several memoranda explaining the necessity and value of the civil sergeant have been sent to the Legislature, who would not even consider it for discussion under “other business” at the Legislative Budget Meeting. I would like to thank Legislators Jonke, Castellano and Montgomery for voting to add the issue of the funding of the Sergeant’s position to the agenda on Oct. 29 at the full legislative meeting to adopt the budget.

    Clearly the 2021 budget that the sheriff requested was cut by county officials. These cuts will have an impact on the Road Patrol, Marine Patrol and Civil functions. The eliminations and reductions to funding were done without the input or support of the Sheriff’s Department and will clearly reduce police services to Putnam residents.

    It is important to note that after realizing that the patrol overtime was reduced for the second year in a row, the Marine Unit was reduced to eliminate patrols on the Hudson River and Lake Mahopac, and the civil sergeant was eliminated, the Sheriff’s Department went back to review our budget submitted to the Legislature and made cuts to other areas to fund these items. We did the responsible thing in finding the money and attempted to work with the Legislature so that the Legislature did not have to find the funding for these valuable services. What was the outcome? The Legislature did not restore any of the above. Instead they verbally attacked the Sheriff’s Department only to move the savings from our budget to the county sub-contingency budget line. How is this fair to the Sheriff’s Department, who did everything it could to resolve this issue? I would like to thank Legislators Jonke, Castellano and Montgomery and Gouldman who did vote to approve the proposed budget transfers to fund the patrol overtime and the Marine Unit.

    One only has to listen to Legislature committee meeting audios to hear the disrespect some members of the Legislature show toward the Sheriff’s Department. Almost all county business involving other county departments, the DA’s Office and the county clerk’s office is approved without comment. Virtually every Sheriff’s Department agenda items are fiercely contested by the Legislature. In fact, the Legislature postpones numerous Sheriff’s Department items routinely. A recent example is the Sheriff’s Department’s 2020 proposed budget amendment to transfer available existing funds into patrol overtime lines that was submitted to the Legislature in early October to ensure that there was adequate patrol coverage through the end of the year. That proposal was tabled by the Legislature for a second time this week by the Legislature without discussion. It is now November, so when does the Legislature intend to approve or deny this transfer? In an attempt to work with the Legislature, the Sheriff’s Department completely complied with their resolution passed last year requiring the county departments to put in a request for a budget amendment for this reason in advance. We have responsibly done so. I would point out that last month the Legislature passed a budget overtime resolution for the Highway Department without discussion, yet it has been over a month since our proposal was submitted without any movement, from the Legislature, on discussing a resolution that directly impacts the safety of our residents.

    To be perfectly clear, the result of the Legislature’s inaction and their passage of a resolution last year that prohibits the sheriff from incurring overtime from a specific budget line will be to give the sheriff only two choices. The first will be to eliminate Sheriff Department’s patrols and emergency coverage to areas of the county where there is no designated police response. The second will be to continue to patrol all areas of Putnam County by backfilling these patrols and incurring overtime even if the Legislature does not approve the fund transfers in the next couple of weeks to cover adequate patrols for the safety of Putnam County residents and its deputies and countywide police officers.

    This choice, however, will most likely result in the Legislature ultimately accusing the sheriff of violating the County Charter section 7.08. Again I would note that the Sheriff’s Department’s has identified existing Sheriff Department funds to cover adequate patrols through the end of the year that has no fiscal impact to the county but the legislature has failed to approve the transfer of those funds to cover the expense.

    The sheriff and his command staff have professionally dealt with county officials on all levels and only wants to manage the Sheriff Office’s public safety mandates and operations free from the perceived oversight that some officials think is inherent in budget appropriations. These officials should provide the financial support to the Sheriff’s Office and recognize the tremendous work that the deputies and corrections officers do every day, not by shallow words that are so often publicly said on the record, but by their actual actions. To date their actions do not support the words they say. Let’s properly fund the Sheriff’s Department, support its initiatives that enhance public and put partisan politics aside.

    Langley is the Putnam County sheriff.