Elected officials defend raises

Comments were sparse at a Nov. 4 public hearing on Southold Town’s 2011 budget, but pay raises proposed for employees have raised some hackles.
The proposed budget, which must be adopted by Nov. 20 under state law, carries a tax hike of just 1.93 percent, but Supervisor Scott Russell said he had received several letters taking elected officials to task for 4 percent salary increases in the coming year.
Highway Superintendent Pete Harris, who, at $99,691, would be the highest-paid elected official in town next year, adamantly defended his raise at the hearing.
“I don’t feel it’s selfish. I feel I give this town their money’s worth,” Mr. Harris said. “I haven’t had a raise in a few years … Weekends, holidays, around the clock, I’m there, driving snowplows when we’re shorthanded of help. A lot of people say elected officials earn too much money, but I think I deserve it.”
Marie Domenici of Mattituck said she was disturbed that, of 10 people in the audience, five were town employees, two were reporters and only three were “taxpayers.”
“I’m disturbed by the fact that people like to sit on the sidelines,” she said, adding that the town’s budget outline is not detailed enough for the public to understand it.
“It’s my job to take this budget and make it more easy to show to the public,” said Mr. Russell. “To boil it down to this isn’t easy, but this isn’t my budget, it belongs to the people of Southold Town. It’s their money.”
Mr. Russell said he would work to make next year’s budget document more user-friendly and added that “we heard what people had to say with regard to raises.” He said the board will likely adopt the budget at its Nov. 16 meeting.
At the hearing, Cutchogue resident Benja Schwartz criticized the 4 percent salary increases for board members. Mr. Russell would make $90,472 next year if the current budget is adopted and Town Board members would earn $31,270 each.
“This is my fifth year on the board and I’ve had one raise. The supervisor’s had no raises,” replied Councilman Al Krupski.
Mr. Russell said he had budgeted for the raises this year because there had been none in the past two as the town reeled from the financial downturn.
“Southold’s fiscal house is in order. I thought that this would be an appropriate time to keep these salaries in pace” with those of other town employees, said Mr. Russell.
[email protected]