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Onondaga County lawmakers looking at pay raises, again

Ellen Abbott
At a recent Onondaga County Ways and Means Committee meeting, members discussed potential pay raises for the county's lawmakers.

Raising the pay of elected officials can often be a prickly political endeavor. Onondaga County lawmakers now find themselves in the midst of it while considering potential raises for themselves and other elected county officials, including the county executive.

Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney has not had a raise in the eight years she’s been in charge of county government. Neither have members of the county legislature. All agreed in the wake of the recession in 2008 that raises would be inappropriate. But now, the politically hot topic is coming up again.

"There’s never a good time for something like this. It’s very difficult. And that’s why it’s languished for eight years," said Ways and Means Committee Chair David Knapp, who was at the helm of the latest public debate over the idea. Proposed legislation presented to his committee last week would raise salaries for legislators, the county comptroller and Mahoney starting in January. The fact that it appeared on the agenda at the last minute, a month after election day, rankled Manlius Rep. Kevin Holmquist.

"Now the public is being shut out, they’re out Christmas shopping," Holmquist said. "They’re not going to be part of this debate. And if we did it during the budget. If it’s a good idea now, it should have been a good idea six weeks ago.”

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO News
Legislature Chairman Ryan McMahon said lawmakers need to take the politics out of pay raises for the county's politicians.

There doesn’t seem to ever be a good idea for these raises though. Legislature Chairman Ryan McMahon noted attempts at raising salaries failed a year ago before legislators and the county executive ran for re-election. And, he doesn’t like the notion of including it in budget negotiations, which are in the fall.

"The best way to handle this issue is a stand alone issue where it’s fully debated, where our constituents and anyone interested can come and listen to these meetings, listen to the debate," McMahon said.

So while the issue got an airing, there was no committee vote and it’s unclear at this point if it will make it to Tuesday’s agenda for a vote by  the full 17-member legislature. Democrat Monica Williams, though, said it’s a start.

"At some point we have to say to take the politics out of this, and move forward in a process," Williams said. "And what that process looks like in the end, nobody knows right now because there’s 17 of us that (we) have to have a discussion with."

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.