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Big County Spenders Lining Up For Raises

Editor's Corner

Frank Beach, left, sits with Deborah Makowski, county Director of Human Resources, while outlining pay raises due to statistics. File photo

Each month, 119 elected members make decisions that impact 18 Chautauqua County school districts. They receive no compensation while serving on Boards of Education and overseeing millions of taxpayer dollars annually.

During that same time period, another devoted group of individuals — numbering in the hundreds — are a part of committees and boards of directors for non-profit agencies within the region. They also receive no compensation while often raising funds and donating their own cash to maintain the fiscal health of the operation they help oversee.

Another dedicated group answers a call at a moment’s notice. Volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians are at motor vehicle accidents, fires and rescue calls. Though their actions are priceless, they also are not paid.

All these residents have one common objective through their service: they are dedicating their time in an effort to give back and improve their communities.

In the Chautauqua County government, the dilemma is much different. Last month, a Salary Review Commission offered its recommendations for those elected. It specifically looked at the county executive, clerk, sheriff and 19 legislators.

According to the bipartisan group made up of Steve Abdella, Frank “Jay” Gould, Vince Horrigan, Sharon Smead, Frank Beach, Dan Heitzenrater and Greg Krauza, all those positions are deserving of a pay raise. The recommendations came after the committee looked at rates for other similar-sized counties that included Broome, Jefferson, Niagara, Ontario, Oswego, Putnam, Rensselaer, Schenectady, St. Lawrence, Steuben, Tompkins, Ulster and Wayne.

At least five of these commission members were once employees of the Chautauqua County government with three currently collecting pensions due to their length of service with the entity. Those experiences could impact their views for higher salaries as well.

But those previous connections were not disclosed by Beach, who smugly made the case for the wage increases last month before the County Legislature. Beach, who was not one of those employed in Mayville, took shots at this newspaper in noting our coverage and an editorial published last month that noted other counties had higher median incomes than ours.

In reality — and not discussed by Beach on that Jan. 24 evening — is the fact that Chautauqua County remains one of the poorest counties when it comes to household incomes across the Empire State. It also has recorded a 10% population decline, from 141,000 to 126,807 over the last 25 years. With statistics like that, why would anyone think government leaders deserve to pad their pockets when serving fewer residents, many of whom are living paycheck to paycheck?

Those in the offices of county executive, sheriff and clerk freely ran for those positions knowing full well what the salary was going to be. There were no surprises on the first payday.

Same with the legislators, who are classified as part-time and have not received an increase since 2001. Salary commission members proposed a more than 63% increase — from the current $9,000 to $14,732 for those officials.

These positions, it must be noted, are already the highest paid for a legislative branch in the county. All other town and village board members — as well as those who serve on city councils — do not receive that same annual rate.

During a committee meeting last month, Legislator Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia, said he appreciated that the proposed increases were “data driven” by the commission. “As we all know, this is probably going to be a field day for the media because ‘how dare any elected official ever think that they should get a raise.’ ”

But commission members, much like those they are backing for pay increases, were entrenched in the government portion of their research. They apparently did not consider any of the other items that included a lack of pay for non-profits and school boards as well as volunteer responders. Or did they consider the lack of results constituents have seen from county government over a quarter century that has witnessed population decline as its spending continue to grow?

Beach snidely mentioned the costs of newspapers have increased more than 100% since the last legislator raise. He is correct. Our single-copy costs have gone from 50 cents in 2001 to $1 daily today.

He also failed to mention the rise in spending and tax levies — even after the sale of the Chautauqua County Home in 2016 — that has been approved by this same body over the same time period. In 2001, the budget was $165.1 million and its tax levy was $37.4 million.

In 2024, the spending has increased by 78% to $294 million and the tax levy — even serving fewer residents — is $71.5 million. That is a 91.2% increase.

One other question not considered by the commission in looking at the pay rates simply comes down to this: Have the elected leaders earned it? That was never spelled out during Beach’s 12-minute synopsis last month.

There is no reason to wonder why. Twenty-three years of county decline says it all.

John D’Agostino is the editor of The Post-Journal, OBSERVER and Times Observer in Warren, Pa. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 716-487-1111, ext. 253.

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