The conversation was brief and actually something of an accident. I had called the Lewis County Treasurer's office to confirm a story I had heard that the Board of Legislators had given the Lewis County Manager a $10,000.00 raise. The Treasurer's office was unsure but thought the information was correct. To confirm, they forwarded me to the Legislative floor. I was expecting to get Clerk of the Board Teresa Clark on the phone. Instead, County Manager David Pendergast answered my call.
At this point a couple of things need to be pointed out. Besides being County Manager, Mr. Pendergast is also Budget Officer. The Budget Officer duties are considered to be part of the Manager's responsibilities, thus the Manager has received a salary of $75,000.00 with no additional money for Budget Officer.
I asked him if it was true that the Board had given him a $10,000.00 raise. He responded that it was, but clarified that the $10,000.00 was being shown as a separate salary now in the Budget Officer salary rather than being added to the County Manager's position. Since no one seemed aware of this possibility, I asked if this raise was budgeted for in the recently passed county budget. He replied that it was not. I then asked if he felt this was proper and after a brief pause he replied "The Board felt it was proper and voted in favor of it."
The excuses given for the raise are the additional duties of the public transportation system and that he is running the IT department.
Folks, this raise should never have happened. At a time when the country is in recession, when the northern New York unemployment rate is rising, and when the State of New York is cutting back state aid to local governments, handing out an unbudgeted raise to an already well paid position is bad judgment.
To use the excuse of additional duties is adding insult to injury; downright rubbing the taxpayer's nose in it. We are living in a time when many, if not most people are working harder for less, assuming you are fortunate enough to be working at all. There are a lot of farmers that will work all year and not clear $10,000.00 this year and the County Manager will receive this as a raise. Yup, we taxpayers get to work longer hours and pay more taxes, but if you're in favor with the Board of Legislators, no worries, we'll take care of you, budgeted or not.
Let's not forget the effect of this on county employees. The department heads will not receive a raise in this year's budget. Now that the legislators have surprised everyone by pulling the County Manager's raise out of their hats, imagine the effect on morale this is likely to have on department heads. This could complicate any union negotiations, also. So much for leading by example.
Mr. Pendergast, when I asked if this unbudgeted raise was proper, you hesitated, if only for a second. I believe it is not proper. The unbudgeted part suggests slight of hand, and otherwise it's just damned tough out here in the real world...and with the state breathing down your neck reality must be starting to set in on the county level...it better be soon.
Do what your board apparently either couldn't or wouldn't do- have the character and show the leadership to turn down this untimely and unbudgeted raise.
It would be refreshing to have someone in this county get something done by showing leadership rather than by how much they can rub in our faces.