The Erie County Legislature is taking up the issue of raises for key elected county positions.
Three months ago, an independent Erie County citizens panel unanimously recommended raises for the county executive, sheriff and comptroller.
Now, lawmakers are looking to act on that report at the behest of Democratic Legislature Chairman Peter Savage.
Savage, a Buffalo Democrat, has indicated a desire to move the Citizens Salary Review Commission recommendations quickly and in an "open and transparent" manner. He introduced the measure this week and has scheduled Legislature deliberations on it at committee meetings next Thursday, which would be followed by a public hearing.
"We owe it to this community to continue the process," Savage said.
Salaries for the top jobs in Erie County should be competitive enough to attract the best candidates, he said.
In a nod to defeated recommendations of the past, the Citizens Salary Review Commission did not suggest raises for all county officials, nor did it recommend raises as high as what prior panels endorsed.
This commission has recommended:
• Raising the county executive's salary from $103,248 to $118,376.
• Raising the sheriff's salary from $79,092 to $89,343.
• Raising the comptroller's salary from $80,613 to $94,037.
• No initial raise for the county clerk, who earns $79,092.
• No raise for county legislators, who earn $42,588 plus stipends for the majority and minority leaders and chair.
• Tying future raises for the county executive, sheriff, comptroller and clerk to routine, incremental increases tied to the consumer price index.
The raises, which would increase the budget by $38,803, would not take effect until the current term for each elected position expires. Neither the sheriff or comptroller are up for election this year. That means the county executive position would be the first to benefit from a raise. The salary increase for the county executive post would amount to an additional $5,000 next year.
County Executive Mark Poloncarz has already indicated his intent to run for re-election. Because of election law changes approved by the State Legislature this week, anyone interested in a local seat would need to seek endorsements and begin circulating petitions by next month.
The recommended salaries represent raises ranging from 13 percent to 17 percent and, if approved by the County Legislature, would be the first raises for county elected officials in 22 years. Commission members opted for a much more conservative approach than in past years, with hopes their current pay recommendations for elected positions will lead to serious consideration instead of the past pattern of being pronounced "dead on arrival."
Attempts by a Citizens Salary Review Commission to raise the salaries of county politicians in 2004 and 2014 were deemed too costly and inappropriate given the lagging local economy. Both were shot down as "dead on arrival" by legislators.
This time, the Citizens Salary Review Commission compared the salaries of elected county officials to averages across the state. They looked at overall state averages, as well as averages that excluded wealthy downstate counties and salary averages for counties with similar populations or median income.
When the recommendations were first released in October, Poloncarz said that while he has no say in what the Legislature does with the report, he supports the recommendations. He pointed out that most of his department heads make much more money than he does.
A number of Democratic legislators are expected to support the recommendations of the commission, but Minority Leader Joseph Lorigo, C-West Seneca, expressed reservations about the recommendations. With the Legislature majority voting down a county tax cut, he said, he doesn't believe the a raise for elected leaders should move forward.
"I don't think that now is the time to raise salaries," he said.