At the June 11, 2018 full board meeting of the Dutchess County Legislature, Republican legislators voted to make it easier to raise their own salaries and those of other county elected officials. Every Democratic legislator was opposed to the change. The local law was approved 13-10.
“Good government allows for its people to participate in it and holds elected officials accountable. This new law is the opposite of good government,” said Minority Leader Hannah Black (D-Hyde Park).
The new law, when signed by Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro (R-Red Hook) who did not oppose the measure, allows the legislature to vote to raise the salaries of elected officials (including Molinaro’s) in any year instead of just election years.
Molinaro is currently running for governor of New York and did not attend the meeting.
During the meeting, Legislator Barbara Jeter-Jackson (D-Poughkeepsie) asked the chamber if someone could explain why this change was necessary and good. Her query was met with silence from the assembled lawmakers and administration staff.
The new law was sponsored by Chairman Gregg Pulver (R-North East), Assistant Majority Leader Don Sagliano (R-Pleasant Valley) and Legislator Jim Miccio (R-Fishkill). None of them answered Legislator Jeter-Jackson.
“Why fix what’s not broken?”, said Legislator Frits Zernike (D-Beacon). “As it stands, the law makes any change in salary come closer to an election, so any increase we decide on, we’ll have to answer for. Why hide that by moving it to an off-cycle year?”
The existing law required that votes to change salaries could only happen during election years before July 15 to allow the voters to weigh in immediately on the decision. For example, legislator salaries could only be voted on in odd-numbered years (not in 2018) and salaries for elected officials with four-year terms like county sheriff, county clerk and county executive could only be voted on once every four years: the year they face the voters.
“What could possibly be their motivation for pushing this now? This does not bode well for taxpayers of Dutchess,” said Legislator Joel Tyner (D-Clinton).
“I am not interested in allowing public servants to be less accountable to the people they serve,” said Legislator Nick Page (D-Beacon).
Under both the new and old laws, any salary changes will not take effect until after an election and the next term begins.
“I voted no because I refuse to be an accomplice in the effort to hide votes on salary increases for elected officials,” said Minority Whip Kristofer Munn (D-Red Hook). “If anybody feels an increase is justified, they should be ready to make their case to their voters.”