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January 23, 2014

Move puts raises for county managers in doubt

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Because Otsego County government managers have gone without raises for six years, some are earning less money now than the workers under their supervision.

That was supposed to change this year, after a narrowly divided county Board of Representatives voted last month to award pay increases to 81 non-union managers.

But county officials later determined that the raises could not go into effect without the county board passing a local resolution setting the individual salaries for the employees in question.

In the meantime, however, the composition of the board has changed as a result of the November elections.

Three county representatives who favored the raises in December have been replaced by new members who have not yet had to wrestle with the question in public. A showdown over the issue could come when the full board meets again Feb. 5.

Prior to the recession, county managers often got raises linked to the increases awarded to unionized employees. In December, county Treasurer Dan Crowell, a Democrat, advised the board the county would have sufficient funds to cover the increases — amounting to 5 percent for those with at least five years of service.

For those with less time on the job, the increases would have come to 1 percent for each year of longevity. In sum, according to Crowell’s calculations, the raises would cost the county $159,000 in the current fiscal year.

Those opposing the pay hikes at the December board meeting questioned whether the county could afford injecting more spending into the budget at a time when there has been a freeze on hiring at most agencies and cuts were being made to a meals program for senior citizens.

They also questioned whether it would be prudent to authorize additional spending when it remains unclear how long the county will continue to lose millions of dollars a year as the operator of the Otsego Manor nursing home. The facility is up for sale and two bids are under consideration, one for $18.5 million, the other for $15 million, sources have told The Daily Star.

County Rep. James Powers, R-Butternuts, who came out in favor of the raises in December, said it would be “unconscionable” for the new board to pull the rug out from under the raise plan now after the county signaled to the managers in December that the increases were in the pipeline.

“The department heads for our county agencies are the ones who make this board look good,” said Powers. “Six years is a long time for anyone to wait for a raise.”

The county board is on a path to revisit the raise question at the same time that its chairwoman, Rep. Kathy Clark, R-Otego, has reconvened the Committee on Government Efficiency with a view towards preventing duplication of services and ensuring agencies focus on their core mission.

Clark has said it is not her intention to cut the county workforce.