By Susan Lopatkin
On Dec. 21, I attended the Nassau County legislature general meeting with the intention of making some comments. I waited in the audience for two hours, but left without being called on to speak (as others did), when the legislature closed public comment. My comments were in opposition to the proposed salary increases, which, the next day, I learned the legislature voted in favor of unanimously.
Had I had the chance to speak, this is what I would have said: For the past eight years, I have been the mayor of the Village of Kensington. I am here today as a citizen of Nassau County (NC), not as an elected official, dismayed and outraged by the proposal to raise legislative salaries by 90 percent.
With NC under NIFA (Nassau County Interim Finance Authority) control and continual pressure on spending, I find it unconscionable that you as legislators would take this opportunity to propose a 90 percent raise. And to couple that with a potential 4 percent annual increase is simply adding insult to injury.
Let me tell you what it’s like to struggle within a NYS mandated tax cap of 2 percent, which this year is down to .73 percent. It’s pretty tough. I run a small village and my employees work really hard. One reason is because there is no large bureaucracy to hide behind. I’d love to give them more money because they really do deserve more. But I can’t. I think you need a reality check, there is no one who works in a municipal setting who gets a 4 percent raise, certainly not for a part-time position and certainly not annually!
But the NC budget is different perhaps. In this budget, as an example, you’ve increased the document recording fees to stratospheric levels. Whereas in virtually anywhere else in the country the cost to record a new deed is $25 to $50, here in NC it is now proposed to be $700. Yes, $700. This is an incredibly high fee created merely to add revenue to a function that is ministerial and bears no relationship at all to the cost. What other obscene “fees” have been added to the budget below the radar? Yet, you have proposed enormous raises for yourselves. I would think it is hard for you to justify that.
Did you know the cost of a family plan for health insurance is going up next year to $1,900 a month? So add that $23,000 cost to your proposed salaries of $75,000 and you are at $98,000 of tax payer cost for a part-time job. Doesn’t that strike you as over the top? What we need instead is new legislation to bring NC finances under control and provide transparency and accountability to the government that you represent.
I understand that you want a raise—that you haven’t had one in many years: I agree, that’s a fair point. Go up 5, 10, even 15 percent. Go up a reasonable, not eye-popping, number. Be appropriate, be modest and humble as public servants are supposed to be. But for goodness sakes, don’t raise your salaries 90 percent! What is your message to the voters? They are who you represent! By every standard that we can measure this proposal, it is just plain wrong.
I urge you in the strongest possible terms to reconsider this piece of legislation and amend it to reflect the realities on the ground for people in this county. The raise you seek and the annual increases you want to legislate must be in keeping with both the nature of your job and the state of the county finances. A 90 percent raise and 4 percent annual increases are simply not warranted, not here in NC and not now.
Susan Lopatkin, Mayor
Village of Kensington