Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone received a salary increase of $ 35,000 after freezing his salary for eight years, saying county finances have improved even when Suffolk struggles with a $ 2 billion debt.
Bellone will earn $ 222,124 annually in his final term while still receiving a salary cut: he could earn an additional $ 10,000 according to county law.
Still, he will be paid 19% more than he was during his first two periods, when he took larger salary cuts. He kept his salary at $ 187,000 a year, even when the amount that could be taken home grew under county law.
The salary change came from Bellone writing a memo from December 18 to budget director Eric Naughton, saying he is reducing his salary for the ninth consecutive year but to a lower level than in previous years "in light of the improvement in the county financial situation. "
"While County finances have improved significantly, we still have more work to do, so I will continue leading by example by reducing my salary by $ 10,000 a year for the next four years," Bellone said in a statement.
But Republican county officials have disputed that finances have improved.
Republican County Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr., who ran against Bellone in November, criticized Bellone's increase, citing the county's bad finances. He noted that Bellone's recent re-election campaign focused on his salary cuts and attacked Kennedy for accepting increases in the cost of living.
"No CEO gets an increase when the entity's condition worsens," said Kennedy, who will earn $ 197,681 this year and said he has not received the longevity payment he is entitled to receive as a long-time county employee. "That's what is happening here."
Suffolk had the greatest fiscal stress of any other county in the state in 2018, according to the office of state comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. His debt reached $ 2.2 billion that year, an increase of 61% since 2008, according to the DiNapoli office, which noted that most of the debt growth occurred before 2012, when Bellone took office.
The county also had an operating deficit of $ 26.5 million and a fund balance deficit of $ 285 million at the end of 2018, according to the DiNapoli office.
But Bellone said the county is not in the "massive fiscal crisis" he inherited when he took office in 2012 and that led him to take a pay cut in the first place. He said he reduced a deficit that was expected to reach $ 530 million between 2011 and 2013. He said the county's bond rating has stabilized, even though it was reduced at least seven times during his tenure.
Board chairman Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue) said the county's financial position has improved. He said the 2020 budget is expected to put the county "in black" if sales tax revenues are as high as projected.
Calarco also noted that Bellone is still earning less than it could while managing a county with 1.5 million residents, 12,000 employees and a budget of $ 3.2 billion.
"If you want quality people to work in our government as elected officials and leaders, we must ensure that we provide an adequate salary," Calarco said.
Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor for the good governance group Reinvent Albany, said Bellone's wage freeze was "largely symbolic" and that its increase affects residents much less than the government is spending money in general .
"That is what residents should really focus on, rather than increases and decreases in the salary of the Suffolk County Executive," Camarda said.
Bellone will make more money this year than any other county executive in the metropolitan area, including Nassau, Westchester and Rockland counties, according to the Nassau comptroller's office, news reports and payroll data obtained and published by the conservative think tank Empire Center for Public Policy.
His salary will be approximately $ 3,000 less than the salary of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo of $ 225,000 and $ 25,000 more than the salary of Nassau County executive Laura Curran of $ 196,375, according to state law and the office of the county controller New York Mayor Bill de Blasio earned $ 258,541 in 2019, according to Empire Center data.
Bellone's salary increase comes at the beginning of his last four-year term in office under the limits of the county's mandate and after a re-election campaign that focused on his salary cuts, with the goal of saving taxpayers' money .
Bellone's salary cuts saved $ 274,686 in its first two terms, since Bellone voluntarily delivered $ 34,336 a year on average, according to salary figures provided by Bellone's office.
More money could have been brought home, up to $ 208,800 in 2012 and $ 232,124 in 2020, according to a county law that automatically provides increases in the cost of living.
His salary increase at the beginning of his final term, $ 35,124, is almost equal to the average amount Bellone saved by receiving less salary than he could have taken.
All elected county officials, except the district attorney, are in the middle of a wage freeze enacted through a 2017 county law. Five lawmakers have also taken a voluntary wage cut, which ranges from $ 582 to $ 2,594 per year, according to the county comptroller's office.
Bellone's increase is allowed because he will still earn less than the amount, $ 232,124, to which his approved salary was frozen, Calarco said.