Legislators Disagree On Compensation Of Coroners

Chautauqua County Legislators and Audit and Control Committee members Chuck Nazzaro, left, and Chairman Pierre Chagnon, right, discuss proposed resolutions during this month’s committee meeting. P-J photo by Eric Zavinski

MAYVILLE — Compensation for Chautauqua County coroners was a polarizing issue at the county’s recent Audit and Control Committee meeting.

Christine Schuyler, public health director, advocated for a base salary range for four coroners of $5,000 to $15,000 on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services. Payments of $150 per coroner case plus the base salary decided on by the discretion of Schuyler would be established, effective Jan. 1, 2019 if the Chautauqua County Legislature decides to adopt the resolution.

Currently, coroners are not paid a base salary and are compensated on a per case basis at a rate of $150 per case. Their salaries range from $14,000 to $23,500 based on the number of cases received by the coroners. Schuyler said the rationale behind a base salary is that it accounts for mandatory state training and being on call.

Legislators and committee members Terry Niebel, R-Dunkirk, and Jay Gould, R-Ashville, didn’t understand why the proposed salary range could not be lessened to $5,000 to $10,000 and cited wanting to stay in the budgeted 2019 funds of $74,500 for the coroners. However, a motion to amend the resolution to fit their desired salary range failed as legislators Chuck Nazzaro, D-Jamestown, and Kevin Muldowney, R-Dunkirk, sided with Schuyler and the original writing of the resolution, which passed the committee.

In other news, Chairman Pierre Chagnon, R-Bemus Point, led a discussion to potentially authorize use of 2 percent occupancy tax monies to retain professional services to assist with developing a consensus strategy for Chautauqua Lake weed management.

Christine Schuyler, county public health director, advocated for a base salary range for the four county coroners of $5,000 to $15,000 on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services. P-J file photo

The committee considered how contentious an issue treatment of the lake has become following a controversial Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and Chautauqua Institution’s lawsuit against the town of Ellery and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Chagnon also explained how privy he was to conflicting ideas of how to move forward since he is the chairman of the Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance, which collects municipalities and local lake groups to try to develop a comprehensive strategy to solve the issues plaguing Chautauqua Lake.

“There are strong interests and concerns,” Chagnon said. “Lawsuits on Chautauqua Lake go back many decades.”

He said it’ll be paramount to bring in an organization without a biased perspective toward any particular form of lake management. Chagnon added that the price of bringing in a third-party organization on the matter would be worthwhile if it prevented taxpayers’ dollars from funding further litigation.

Since a resolution to allocate 2 percent occupancy tax funds for the emergency cleanup of Burtis Bay was tabled at the recent meeting of the legislature, the committee also discussed that issue further and agreed that there would be less needed funds in the spring that would allow the Chautauqua Lake Association to clean up the weeds, which amassed a fish kill near Celoron shores in November, when weather permits.

“The emergency situation we’re trying to address cannot be addressed this year,” Chagnon said.

That gives the county some time to mull over how funds could be distributed to the needed cleanup parties. Chagnon said they could funnel the funds through the alliance, distribute them directly to the CLA or keep them in the occupancy tax fund until the money is needed.

To reduce the daily load for phosphorus in Findley Lake, attributed to numerous inadequate septic systems, a resolution also passed the committee that would have the Chautauqua County Sewer Agency reactivated to potentially expand the sewer district to further service the towns of Sherman and Mina. Existing septic systems could be replaced.