Virtuoso says last minute raises are out of line

BY TONY FARINA

A last-minute budget amendment giving hefty pay raises to two appointees of the GOP majority of the Niagara County Legislature is coming under heavy fire today from Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso of Niagara Falls.

Virtuoso told the Niagara Falls Reporter that the raises pushed through by the majority in the budget amendment before the full vote on the budget Tuesday night “are out of line,” and did not come before the home committees for discussion as they should have.

Democrats, who have only four of the legislature’s 15 votes, were overrun on a straight party line vote on the last-minute amendment that gave raises to Legislature Clerk Mary Jo Tamburlin and Public Information Officer Christian Peck.

Under the new pay schedule, Tamburlin’s salary will be $72,469, a 4.5 percent increase, and Peck goes to $69,146, an increase of 9.9 percent.  Both had been slated to receive smaller raises under the proposed budget until the amendments were pushed through without any discussion prior to the budget vote.

According to Virtuoso, Tamburlin’s salary has been raised $24,000 in the last eight years and Peck’s has gone up $19,000 since 2010.

“What kind of precedent does this set for county workers who are getting raises of one and two percent,” said Virtuoso, who also argued that while the 2017 budget provides a tax reduction for most county residents including the city of Niagara Falls, it could have been much more if Republicans would have incorporated more than $1 million in cuts proposed by the Democratic minority.

While the county tax rate is decreased by 24 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation in Niagara Falls, Virtuoso said it could have been 35 cents if the Democratic budget cuts were enacted.

“They even included $120,000 in the budget for a contract manager which we haven’t even discussed,” said Virtuoso.  “Now the taxpayers will be paying for a job that doesn’t even exist.”

The $338.8 million budget passed by a vote of 12 to 3 with Niagara Falls Legislator Jason Zona voting with Republicans after first opposing the pay raises included in the last-minute budget amendment.  The budget carries an average tax rate of $7.27 per $1,000 which is 11 cents lower than the current rate.  But Virtuoso insists the reduction could have been much more if the Democratic amendments had passed but they were defeated on a party line vote.

The pay raise resolution pushed through by Republicans justified the raises for Tamburlin and Peck by saying they had performed important additional duties in their current positions and therefore had earned the salary increases.

Tax rates under the new county budget, in addition to Niagara Falls, will decrease in the towns of Wilson, Lockport, Newfane and Niagara while increasing everywhere else, including the cities of Lockport and North Tonawanda.

Virtuoso insists there was money available in the county’s debt reserve fund to reduce taxes but administration officials claim that could potentially hurt the county’s credit rating.  Virtuoso did not agree with that position, but with only four votes available, he was overwhelmed.

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