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Oneida County lawmakers strip proposed raises from 2017 budget

Payne Horning

For the fourth year in a row, the Oneida County Board of Legislators has passed a budget without an increase in the property tax levy. County officials say they are pleased about saving residents money, but they are also concerned about what the frugal approach could mean for Oneida County's financial future.

The Board of Legislators made few changes to the budget proposed by County Executive Anthony Picente. Most notably, they removed the proposed raises for legislators, the county executive, comptroller, sheriff and clerk. The raises had been recommended by a legislative committee. Board Chairman Gerald Fiorini said it was stripped from the budget after someone objected.

"We all agreed that we would vote for it when it came out, but if one wanted to vote against it then we would have to pull it," Fiorini said. "One legislator was concerned about raises for elected officials, meaning the sheriff, county executive, comptroller, so we had to pull it."

Picente said it was a mistake to deny those raises because many officials like himself are beginning to make less than his subordinates - as many as 20 next year according to Picente's office. 

"The salary structure that is in place for our department, division heads, deputies, across the board is getting so out of whack away from the elected officials that in most cases there are upwards of maybe - in my case 40 people who earn more than this position does," Picente said.

Picente, whose salary would have increased from $114,869 to $135,000, also said it could hurt recruitment efforts. 

"People are not inclined to run for these positions if the responsibilities far outweigh the compensation," Picente said. "That is a problem."

Fiorini agrees with Picente, noting that the legislators have not had a raise in 22 years. Legislators stood to get a $5,000 raise that would have put their salary at $13,368. But Fiorini is more concerned about the county's flat sales taxes. When combined with no increase in property tax revenues, he says Oneida County's future could be a bit more bleak.

"We’ve done that for the citizens, but now I think is the time we’re losing our fund balance and there may be a raise in taxes next year," Fiorni said. 

Nearly $7 million from Oneida County's fund balance was used to furnish the $393,543,710 budget.

Oneida County officials are working to change how they distribute their sales tax revenues to municipalities so more can go to the larger governments like Utica, Rome and the county because they provide a bigger share of public services. 

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.