by Anthony Pucci
On July 22nd, I attended the initial meeting of the Chemung County Legislature’s ad hoc Compensation & Benefits Committee. The purpose of the committee is to evaluate the salary and benefits package offered to our legislators, review what other comparable counties offer their legislators, and make recommendations to the full Legislature regarding what changes, if any, should be made.
Keep in mind that the 15 legislators make a total of $275,903 in salary alone in 2019. This total does not include the $141,332 salary of the County Executive nor the $123,410 salary of the Deputy County Executive. In addition to their salary, each member of the Legislature is provided health insurance (with a $1,500 buyout) as well as New York State retirement benefits.
Based on a FOIL request for the activity logs of the legislators, I wrote a Your Turn piece published in the Star Gazette on April 17, 2018. What I found then was disturbing to say the least. These activity logs are self-reported for only the first three months of service. They indicated that the average legislator worked a total of 10.5 hours a week. Imagine working 10 hours a week, receiving a minimum of $16, 234 per year (some make more), in addition to having a generous health plan and a retirement plan. What a deal!
If you are expecting this ad hoc Committee to make any reductions in the compensation package, I’m afraid that you might be sorely disappointed. Why do I say that? For starters, this ad hoc Committee is made up of 5 members of the Legislature. Do you really expect the majority to admit that they make too much money based on the number of hours worked as well as the fact that our 15 legislators represent an average of only 5,900 constituents each (that number has been decreasing with declining population) while statewide, the average legislator represents 23,000 constituents?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could decide on your own salary and benefits package? Our legislators get to do just that.
Not only do I doubt that any reductions will be seriously considered, it is quite likely that more perks will be added. At this first meeting, the idea of providing stipends to committee chairs was floated. Since there are 7 standing committees, 7 chairs would stand to gain some added compensation. Another suggestion was that the aforementioned $1,500 insurance buyout should be increased. No reason was provided for this suggestion, but you might as well ask, right? Still another suggestion was that the County might subsidized the auto insurance premium for the legislators who occasionally use their personal vehicles on County business.
I would urge you to watch the live-streaming of all meetings of the Legislature through Christina Sonsire’s blog, chemungcountymatters.com. All 2019 meetings are archived there as well. Be informed and make your voices heard. Call, write, text, or email your legislator and make your opinions known.
Legislators are public servants, and taxpayers should not be their personal piggy bank.
Anthony J. Pucci is a resident of the Town of Veteran.