The Niagara County Legislature cut the salary for one coroner's position Tuesday while giving raises to the other three, after a vigorous argument over whether it was legal.
The answer appears to be yes.
The local law to equalize all four coroners' salaries at $17,500 a year passed, 12-5. The measure represents a $1,500-a-year raise for Kenneth V. Lederhouse of Lockport, Joseph V. Mantione of North Tonawanda and Robert W. DuBois of Wheatfield.
However, it's a cut for the winner of the Nov. 4 election in Niagara Falls between Democrat Cindy-Lou Joyce, wife of retired coroner James M. Joyce, and Republican Russell Jackman II. The current salary in that district is $22,473 a year.
Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, argued that the winner of the election would be serving the three years left on the term to which James Joyce was elected last year. He resigned in September, and it's illegal to cut an elected official's pay in midterm.
"It's not midterm for that position," replied Legislator Clyde L. Burmaster, R-Ransomville. He said the winner of the Niagara Falls election will receive a full four-year term.
Virtuoso said Democratic Election Commissioner Nancy L. Smith told him Tuesday that the winner would receive a three-year term, but Republican Commissioner Scott P. Kiedrowski, citing an opinion from the state Board of Elections, said by telephone after the meeting that a four-year term goes to the winner.
Legislature Chairman William L. Ross said County Attorney Claude A. Joerg had reviewed the pay measure's legality and approved it. "If it's wrong, we'll rescind it," Ross said after the meeting.
Virtuoso and Legislator Renae Kimble, D-Niagara Falls, argued that the reduction in the Niagara Falls coroner's pay constituted sex discrimination. They say Cindy-Lou Joyce, who would be the county's first female coroner, is likely to win the election.
"This definitely reeks of sexism," Kimble said.
"We wanted to make it equal salaries for all the coroners," Ross answered.
In other matters, a $6.7 million bond issue to pay for 10 major purchases and construction projects was withdrawn from the agenda. Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, said the 10 projects will be voted on separately at the Nov. 5 meeting.
The Legislature passed a resolution of Kimble's, urging the state to increase aid to money-losing Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center. It also called on Albany to avoid solving its budget deficit by passing costs of mandated programs to the counties.
It also accepted a $73,071 share, after legal fees, of the $24 million settlement drugmaker Bristol-Myers Squibb made with the state in a lawsuit that charged overpricing of prescription drugs billed to Medicaid.