Legislature trying to sort out snafu over salary cutgreenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread
"The budget line for the commissioners' salaries was overdrawn in 1999, but Sacco said the county never realized it until this week, because it changed its computer payroll software in October to a system incompatible with the previous one. "
Legislature trying to sort out snafu over salary cut By THOMAS J. PROHASKA
News Niagara Bureau 2/20/00
LOCKPORT - Even though the Niagara County Legislature voted in December 1998 to cut the election commissioners' pay by 10 percent in last year's budget, they continued to receive their old, higher salaries for the entire year.
That revelation, which surfaced at Tuesday's Legislature meeting, has set off a vigorous round of finger-pointing and triggered calls for an investigation.
Legislator Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, said he had asked District Attorney Matthew J. Murphy III to look into the matter. But on Friday, Murphy said he did not "see anything that would call for a criminal investigation."
Another option, Virtuoso said, would be the seldom-used Board of Inquiry, in which the Legislature itself sits as something resembling a court to investigate allegations of internal county wrongdoing.
"I'd like to look into this a little more," Virtuoso said. "There may have been things that were improper and not according to procedure."
A public hearing was held at Tuesday's Legislature meeting on a resolution granting Democratic Commissioner Judith M. Cirifalco and Republican Commissioner Michael J. Norris 3 percent raises for this year and retroactive 3 percent increases for last year.
But acting Minority Leader Sean J. O'Connor, D-Niagara Falls, exercised his prerogative to stop the measure from coming to a vote because of the pay cut issue.
The commissioners had been receiving $37,624 when, on Dec. 15, 1998, legislators voted 15-4 to reduce the amount by 10 percent.
The cut was reflected in the final printed version of last year's budget, which allocated $33,856.14 for each commissioner.
But chief payroll clerk Katherine E. Pouthier said, "I wasn't given any information to cut their salaries." "Normal process is, if there's a cut, the department that it's coming out of is responsible for generating (the paperwork)," said Robert L. Schuman, labor relations manager.
"It goes to Human Resources, and then it comes to me," Pouthier said.
"It would be up to the department heads (to send in the forms)," Budget Director Sharon Sacco said. "They knew that resolution passed."
Pouthier said Legislator James W. Ward, R-Newfane, chairman of the Administration Committee that oversees the Board of Elections, signed the payroll instructions when Cirifalco and Norris were appointed. Norris' form was dated Dec. 14, 1998, the day before the pay cut was passed.
Earlier last week, Ward said former County Attorney Edward P. Perlman had ruled the pay cut was illegal. But Perlman denied it, saying, "The budget resolution was legally adopted and the commissioners should have received a 10 percent cut."
Ward said Friday that Perlman never issued a formal opinion on the matter. "The only reason we held it in abeyance was that we heard it was illegal," Ward insisted.
Asked where he got that information, Ward said it might have come from then-Legislature Clerk Jeffrey D. Williams. "It was his understanding that Ned (Perlman) thought it was illegal."
Williams declined to comment directly on that, except to say, "A foul-up happened somewhere along the line, and the resolution was never processed. The best I can tell, it was an honest mistake."
The budget line for the commissioners' salaries was overdrawn in 1999, but Sacco said the county never realized it until this week, because it changed its computer payroll software in October to a system incompatible with the previous one.
No paychecks bounced, because the county has one big payroll account, Sacco said. Ward said Ralph A. Boniello III, the new county attorney, "is going to prepare a comprehensive memorandum on this. . . . If adjustments need to be made, we'll make adjustments."
"You cannot reduce the salary in the middle of a term without passing a local law," Boniello said Friday. "The resolution (cutting the pay) doesn't say when it takes effect, but since it's a budget resolution, I would assume it's Jan. 1, 1999."
That would have been the first day of the election commissioners' terms. Cirifalco, however, already was in office, having been appointed in October 1998 to fill an unexpired term.
Cirifalco declined to comment, but Norris said he thought Cirifalco's pay couldn't be cut because she already was in office. The salary for the GOP position, therefore, couldn't be cut, either, because state law requires that both election commissioners receive the same salary.
Ward said the pay cut also might have been considered illegal because salaries that have to be increased through local laws, which require a public hearing, might have to be cut in that fashion, too, not simply by a resolution. "This is a perfect case for budget resolution reform," Williams said.
-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), February 24, 2000