It Pays To Be At The Top

Although median household income and per capita income between Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties are similar, the pay of their elected officials is not.

According to the Empire Center’s 2012-13 edition of “What They Make,” the center’s annual report on public payrolls, the counties are ranked third, fifth and fourth respectively for Western New York counties. The three come behind Erie and Niagara counties.

The report shows that the average pay for county employees in Allegany County is $39,613. Average pay for Cattaraugus County employees is $38,454. And, the average pay for county employees in Chautauqua County is $38,565.

Additionally, the report shows Allegany County to have a total of 529 county employees while Cattaraugus County has 1,162 and Chautauqua County has 1,475.

In a breakdown of the highest paid county and municipal employees by region, the Empire Center’s report shows a Chautauqua County employee to be the fourth-highest paid in the category in Western New York. The employee, who makes $162,894 according to the report, is also the highest-paid employee in Chautauqua County.

Despite relative similarities in average pay for county employees, There is a pay difference of $33,852 between the Allegany County administrator – who has a salary of $63,644 for 2013, according to See Through NY – and the Cattaraugus County administrator, who has a salary of $97,496. The Chautauqua County executive has been locked in at a salary of $85,000 for several years.

Between the three counties, there is also a vast difference in pay for the county sheriff, with Chautauqua County once again coming in between Allegany and Cattaraugus counties. The lowest-paid sheriff out of the three is the Allegany County Sheriff, who has a 2013 salary of $63,200, according to See Through NY. The sheriff in Cattaraugus County has a 2013 salary of $92,410, while the Chautauqua County sheriff has a 2013 salary of $83,820.

Another elected position with a pay difference between the three counties is that of county clerk. This time, it is a gap of $16,955 between Cattaraugus County – whose clerk has a 2013 salary of $70,675, according to See Through NY – and the Chautauqua County clerk, who has a salary of $53,720. This time, it is the Allegany County clerk coming in between the two, with a salary of $63,00.

While the salaries of the top elected officials between the three counties differ greatly, it is startling to see the median household income and per capita money income between the three do not. In fact, between the highest and lowest median, the difference is only $1,322.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the median household income is highest in Cattaraugus County, with a median of $42,754. Allegany comes in second for household income, with a median of $41,900. And, Chautauqua County has the lowest median income of the three, with $41,432.

Interestingly, the difference in per capita income between the highest and lowest in the three counties is also $1,322, although in this case the highest is still Cattaraugus County, and the lowest is Allegany County, according to the Census. In Cattaraugus County, per capita money income is $21,369. Chautauqua County falls in the middle, at $21,320. Allegany is the lowest for per capita money income, with $20,047.

SALARY REVIEW

The Chautauqua County charter says there shall be an appointed bipartisan County Salary Commission to review and recommend the salaries of all elected officials, except those whose salaries are established, directly or indirectly, by state law. The salary of all officers elected for a fixed term was not to be increased or diminished between the date of their election and the expiration of their term except in accordance with a schedule adopted prior to the time the officer was elected to office which provides higher or lower rates of compensation during the term, or as otherwise mandated by state or federal laws, rules or regulations. The charter also says the commission shall be composed of seven citizens appointed by the county legislature.

It is the duty of the commission to recommend to the county executive and county legislature salary adjustments for elected offices at least one year prior to the general election in which the office is scheduled to be filed.

The Salary Review Commission met in April and May to discuss the salaries of the county executive, sheriff and county clerk, as well as county legislators. Resolutions regarding salary increases were presented to several legislative committees in June.

For the county executive position, the committee recommended an annual salary of $109,480, effective Jan. 1, 2014. The committee recommended that the county clerk position salary be $68,264, and recommended a salary of $87,450 for the sheriff, all as of Jan. 1, 2014.

Before committees met, legislators were already speaking out against proposed changes. Administrative Services Committee Chairman Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia, was the first legislator to voice his opinion over the pay increases.

“I feel this is not the time for elected officials to receive salary increases,” he said. “My “no” votes will reflect how I feel about the four local law changes.”

Mark Tarbrake, R-Ellicott, also spoke, agreeing that legislators should not receive pay increases. However, he noted some positions have had no pay change in many years.

“There’s not been a change in the salary of county executive or county clerk in 20 years,” Tarbrake said. “I support that change for those people. Let’s move into the 21st century for those people, let’s get real here. As far as county legislators go, I’m willing to keep those the same.”

Not all legislators felt the same, though. Minority Leader Robert Whitney, D-Jamestown, said he did not see a problem with the proposed increase to salaries.

“I know it’s a big jump, but there hasn’t been a jump in how many years?” Whitney asked. “There was a lot of experience on that committee. I’m sure people are going to complain about the recommendations, but then again I don’t see any primaries where everybody’s trying to run now, because it’s such a great deal. So, I guess I don’t have a problem with it. It’s not too late for somebody to jump in if they think it’s a great deal.”

After being voted down by several committees, legislative Chairman Jay Gould, R-Ashville, made the decision to pull the resolutions before they went to the full legislature.

“There hasn’t been enough debate on (the local laws). There must be a better way,” Gould said. “Maybe there ought to be another way, other than a citizen’s committee, such as a cost of living every year, or every two years or something. (The local laws) weren’t enacted in (2008) and they won’t be enacted in (2013). As long as we keep going the way we are, it’s going to be hard to get people to fill these positions after a while, in a few more years.”

According to Gould, there were requests from other legislators to pull the local laws off the agenda as well. He believes there will be other suggestions for salary changes and the process before the discussion is over.

“I think we ought to discuss it a lot more than we have,” Gould said. “I couldn’t see any passage, all I could see was a couple hours of debate and failure for the laws to pass. So, what use is that at a legislation meeting, other than to burn time?”

Since June, there has been no additional discussion about salaries of elected officials. Chautauqua County Executive Greg Edwards will be presenting his 2014 budget to the legislature Sept. 25. It is yet unclear whether there will be any changes to salaries recommended.