Critics of Councilman John Dunleavy’s proposal to increase the salaries for town officials didn’t mince words Tuesday night. The plan was called “terrible” and “premature.”
And by the end of the meeting, only Mr. Dunleavy voted in favor of the measure.
The proposal to give annual cost-of-living salary increases to all elected officials in Riverhead Town was rejected 4-1 by his colleagues on the Town Board.
Mr. Dunleavy’s proposal, which he first presented at last Thursday’s work session, called for annual increases based on the Consumer Price Index; he proposed that the raises take effect starting in 2017.
Mr. Dunleavy said last Thursday that Riverhead council members have not had a raise in six years and that the cost of living has increased during that time. He said Riverhead’s council members are the lowest-paid in Suffolk County and that Riverhead’s supervisor, Sean Walter, is the highest paid in Suffolk. Both statements proved to be inaccurate. Huntington Town’s supervisor currently earns more than Mr. Walter and members of both the Southold and Shelter Island boards receive less than those in Riverhead.
Riverhead council members already earn more than Southold’s — $48,955 compared to $34,398 — but Mr. Dunleavy argued that they have more to do. Southold, he pointed out, also has elected town Trustees, paid about $19,000 each, who handle some responsibilities that fall to board members in Riverhead.
But Mr. Walter — who didn’t support the raises — said Tuesday that elected officials’ salaries must be set in the budget and can’t be changed mid-year.
Councilwoman Jodi Giglio also criticized the idea Tuesday.
“To do something like this without giving the union employees something is terrible,” Ms. Giglio said in voting against the proposal. “I haven’t taken a raise in four years.”
Meanwhile, town union president Terri Davis Sweeney said the $48,955 salary for town council members is not the only money those officials get.
They each also get a $4,000 deferred compensation package annually, said Ms. Sweeney — who serves the Civil Service Employees Association, the union to which most non-police employees in the town belong. She added that retired council members get 100 percent of their health insurance covered by the town.
Mr. Dunleavy and Councilman Jim Wooten, who are both retired town police officers, also get an annual pension from those jobs. Mr. Dunleavy earned a $34,285 pension this year and Mr. Wooten earned $45,556. Councilman-elect Tim Hubbard, also a former town cop, retired earlier this year; details about his pension payments weren’t immediately available.
“This seems to be exceedingly premature for the year 2017,” said Angela DeVito of South Jamesport, a civic leader and active member of the town Democrats. “It’s probably the most premature piece of legislation we’ve ever seen in town government.”
Ms. DeVito said she did think it was fair that longer serving elected officials be paid more than new ones.
While voting against its own raises, the board did vote Tuesday to support a salary increase for Police Chief David Hegermiller, who was the highest-paid public employee for 2014 in both the town and Suffolk County. In addition to base salary, his compensation includes a stipend as emergency services coordinator, night differential and buybacks of unused sick pay and vacation time, according to Newsday, which looked at total year-end compensation and put Mr. Hegermiller’s total take-home for 2014 at $327,605.
Mr. Hegermiller’s base salary as chief is $173,771, but the resolution approved Tuesday increases that to $177,247 as of Jan. 1 , 2014, and to $180,792 as of Jan. 1, 2015, both dates having already past.
The resolution says the chief will not be paid retroactively for the difference.
Bill Rothaar, town finance administrator, said state law had required the chief to be the town’s highest paid police officer to prevent unionized police officers from earning more than their chief through annual raises. That law was eliminated after the state enacted its tax cap law.
Mr. Rothaar said that with Tuesday’s approved raise Chief Hegermiller remains the department’s top-paid cop; he will start 2016 with a base annual salary of $180,792.
That resolution passed 4-1 Tuesday, with Councilwoman Jodi Giglio casting the only no vote. She said she doesn’t think the town should be giving raises.
To read a recap of News-Review reporter Tim Gannon’s live blog of the meeting, click below and scroll down for the agenda. The resolution packet was not available on the town’s web site.