Legislators also clash over County Charter panel
After months of delay, the Putnam County Legislature on Tuesday (Dec. 1) approved $28,320 in overtime for Sheriff’s Department patrols from last summer but also allocated $45,000 for outside consultants to probe the department’s finances and practices.
Legislator Nancy Montgomery, who represents Philipstown, voted against the consultants appropriation.
In other moves, again over Montgomery’s opposition, legislative majorities approved raises for elected officials, including themselves, and established a committee to revise the Putnam County Charter.
During the meeting, which was held by audioconference because of COVID-19 restrictions, Montgomery questioned the timing and scope of the consultants’ work.
“It’s a good idea to have professional support to look at all the county expenses and how we operate, across the board,” she said. “Now is not the time to spend $45,000 on just the Sheriff’s Department.”
She argued that during the continuing pandemic and ensuing economic distress, the funds could be better spent on COVID-19 testing and similar public needs, and that Sheriff’s Department officials “can find efficiencies on their own.”
But Legislator Neal Sullivan of Carmel-Mahopac contended that the analysis may reveal “if we can make changes that benefit taxpayers.” He said legislators have long “wanted to understand the methods used at the Sheriff’s Department to utilize our resources as efficiently as possible.”
The issue of deputies’ overtime pay has bounced back and forth from committee to the full Legislature over the past few months, although it involves no additional outlays because the Sheriff’s Department wanted to transfer money from under-used jail accounts to cover the expense. But those transfer requests met with resistance from most of the Legislature.
In memos, the Sheriff’s Department listed the reasons behind the overtime in July through September: two officers recalled to military duty, two at the police academy, COVID-19 complications and staffing demands for street protests. The memos also mentioned obligations under a new union contract and a $104,000 cut to the department’s expected funding for 2020.
On Tuesday, the Legislature voted unanimously to approve the fund transfers, with no further disputes.
Although the Legislature has approved the 2021 budget, which includes funding for salaries, state law requires that the Legislature separately approve raises and pay for about 180 non-union employees.
On Oct. 29, five legislators voted to boost legislative pay by about 2.4 percent beginning in 2021, to $41,809 annually. That night, Montgomery and Legislators William Gouldman of Putnam Valley, Joseph Castellano of Brewster and Toni Addonizio of Kent voted against the increase.
What They Will Make
On Dec. 1, the Putnam Legislature approved 2.4 percent salary increases for themselves and most other elected officials and non-union county jobs. Here is what select positions will pay in 2021.
Commissioner of Health $190,383
County Executive $166,125
Commissioner of Social Services $151,139
County Attorney $149,846
Director of Personnel $141,776
County Clerk $136,227
Clerk of Legislature $102,363
Elections Commissioners $95,956
Tourism Director $81,900
Veterans Director $66,123
Legislative Chair $52,261
Coroners $22,666 (from $185 per diem)
But on Tuesday, only Gouldman joined Montgomery in voting against the raises for legislators and County Executive MaryEllen Odell.
Subsequently, Montgomery alone voted against a long list of raises for managers, aides and other staff.
Legislator Ginny Nacerino defended the approach and objected to “cherry-picking” raises. “We are not a county of haves and have-nots,” she said. Nacerino said that anyone who opposed pay hikes could refuse to accept one.
As with the passage of any law by the Legislature, a public hearing on the raises will be held by the county executive to hear comments. It is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 16 via audiocast. See putnamcountyny.gov for a link. Comments are also accepted by email to [email protected] or fax to 845-808-1901.
The seemingly arcane matter of forming a committee to recommend changes to the Putnam County Charter prompted debate when Montgomery objected to the panel’s composition.
At least initially, it will consist of Addonizio; Sullivan, who heads the Rules Committee; Robert Firriolo, the Legislature’s lawyer; and Jennifer Bumgarner, the county attorney. The charter establishes county government departments and their roles, sets terms of office and defines policies and procedures in numerous areas. The county is supposed to consider updating it every 10 years.
Montgomery noted that the committee excludes her, the Legislature’s “minority party” member (she is the only Democrat on the nine-member panel), and does not include delegates from town governments. “It’s not an equal division of representation,” she said.
Legislator Carl Albano of Carmel responded that “any changes to the charter will be voted on by all the legislators. So in that way we will all have input.”
“This is not a town issue; this is a county issue,” Legislator Amy Sayegh of Mahopac added. “This is not a partisan issue.”
The legislators united to support a proposal by Neal Zuckerman, a Garrison resident who represents the county on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, to set a flat fare for Metro-North tickets instead of charging riders who live farther from New York City more than those who live closer.
Given the train system’s decreased ridership and economic uncertainties in the COVID-19 crisis, Sullivan called Zuckerman’s plan “a little premature” and “an effort in futility to correct decades of mismanagement and terrible budgeting” by the MTA.
Albano, though, said the concept “is not to cut money but to spread the expenses fairly” and make Metro-North “more equitable.”
Castellano called the proposal “a fantastic idea” that “makes incredible sense” and said he is “so glad someone is thinking outside the box.”
The Legislature approved a new annual contract for Firriolo, its legal counsel. He will earn $80,000, or $5,000 more than in 2020. Only Montgomery voted “no.”
Firriolo, of Carmel, was appointed in 2017 after the Legislature dismissed Clement Van Ross of Putnam Valley, who had held the position for more than 30 years.
At an Audit Committee meeting on Nov. 19, Montgomery criticized the committee members for sending the contract to the full Legislature for consideration when they hadn’t provided the document for review by the other legislators.
“This is a heads-up that I may have a comment at another time, and it may be during the full Legislature meeting, because I don’t have the contract in front of me,” she said.
Addonizio pointed out that the same contract has been approved for the past three years. “This is not a new contract,” she said.
Holly Crocco contributed reporting.