It has been 18 years since elected offices in Erie County have seen pay raises.
And while there is a diversity of opinion among elected officials about whether salary increases are warranted at this time, a nine-member citizens commission has been impaneled to weigh the question.
The Citizens Salary Review Commission last convened in 2004, although the County Charter calls for a commission to be impaneled every two years. That made it imperative to act on forming a new commission, according to a spokesman for County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, who nonetheless declined to say whether the county executive supports raises for elected officials.
“The only opinion he strongly holds regarding this topic is that this commission be impaneled,” said Peter Anderson, press secretary for the county executive.
“It wouldn’t be fair for him to say whether or not any of the elected positions actually warrant a salary increase. If he came out and said something like that, it could bias the commission or, in some way, unduly influence the commission’s recommendation.”
Other elected officials, either directly or through spokesmen, were less shy about sharing their opinions.
County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw and County Clerk Christopher L. Jacobs both oppose raises for their respective offices.
“The comptroller’s opinion is that he’d rather stay out of it,” said Bryan Fiume, associate deputy comptroller.
“He ran for the office knowing the salary, and he’s not advocating for a raise for himself, and he’d be uncomfortable taking it, at least for the term he ran for.”
Jacobs, in a news release following the impaneling of the commission, expressed similar sentiments.
“When I ran for the office of Erie County clerk just three years ago, I was fully aware of the salary associated with the office,” Jacobs said. “For me to now advocate or accept a pay raise would be disingenuous to county taxpayers and the voters of Erie County that duly elected me.”
In a subsequent letter to Citizens Salary Review Commission Chairman Robert M. Glaser, Jacobs suggested that the panel recommend to the County Legislature that the question of whether elected officials deserved raises be put before county voters through a referendum in a November general election.
Glaser suggested Monday that this would be akin to lobbying, which would be beyond the purview of the commission.
“I don’t believe we’re going to be recommending that we change the law or lobby to make the law require the salaries go before the taxpayers,” Glaser said. “If that’s what the Legislature wants to do, they can do that.”
The commission, which had its first meeting Aug. 12, is still developing the criteria needed to make its recommendations to the Legislature by Sept. 30.
“For sure, we’re trying to evaluate the position and not the performance of the current officeholder,” said Glaser, who formerly served as chairman of the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority.
Meanwhile, the Legislature’s minority leader, Buffalo Democrat Betty Jean Grant, said she would have no problem with supporting a recommendation by the commission to raise the salaries of the county executive, comptroller, clerk and sheriff. Grant noted that all of those officials have subordinate employees who earn considerably more than they do.
“I think the chief executives in those departments should make the highest salaries,” Grant said.
John W. Greenan, chief administrator for the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, noted that several administrators and sheriff’s deputies who work under Sheriff Timothy B. Howard all earn more than their boss.
“Frankly, the position is underpaid, whether it be for him or for anybody. The largest law enforcement agency in Erie County is the Sheriff’s Office, and he makes less than most local police chiefs with forces of less than 100,” Greenan said.
Howard recently came under fire for taking a part-time job as a contract employee for M&T Bank from mid-January to early July, which then called into question whether his annual salary of $79,092 is too low.
The county clerk has the same annual salary, while the county’s second-highest-paid elected official is the county executive, who earns $103,428 annually.
The comptroller earns $80,615 a year. Rank-and-file legislators earn $42,588 annually, while the Legislature chairman is paid $52,588 a year, and the Legislature’s majority and minority leaders each earn $47,588 annually.
When the Citizens Salary Review Commission last convened in 2004, it recommended pay raises of between 35 and 45 percent for the county’s top four elected officials, which did not wind up being approved by the Legislature.
The commission did not then and will not now make a recommendation on the district attorney’s salary, which is set by the state.
Both Grant and Majority Leader Joseph C. Lorigo, a Conservative from West Seneca, declined to say whether county lawmakers were due for a raise.
“We don’t want to influence them in any way, so giving an opinion one way or the other, I don’t think is in our best interest at this point,” Lorigo said.
The commission is set to hold its second meeting at 8 a.m. Sept. 2 in the Rath County Office Building.