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Onondaga County Executive vetoes pay cut for election commissioners

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
Democratic Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny.

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon Sunday vetoed a $7,000 a year pay cut for the two county election commissioners, saying the move had the "unintended consequence of increasing political partisanship and causing division within our community at a time when we can least afford discord."

The pay cut was included in the budget passed by Onondaga County lawmakers last week, after last minute amendment was added by Republican Kevin Holmquist. Democrats rejected that amendment, and the overall budget. Republicans say the reductions are meant to bring the salaries closer in line to what other comparable county election commissioners make.

Holmquist said 15 years ago, the salary of an elections commissioner was at $66,000 a year. Today, he said, the salaries and benefits of both commissioners is costing the county $330,000, in a department that has just 16 staff members.

“This is certainly not an attempt to punish, in either way, the Republican or Democrat election commissioner,” Holmquist told WRVO Friday. “Both of them are going to be having the same, very competitive and closer to a fair market salary of $93,000. It’s more of an attempt to right size the salary.”

In addition to the reductions, the salaries would have also been kept at a flat rate, while managers in other county departments are getting pay increases. Democratic Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny said Friday there are commissioners in smaller counties that make more than them and he was blindsided by the pay cut.

“No other county department heads’ salaries were touched, just ours,” Czarny said. “In fact, everybody else gets a raise. Not only to reduce the salary, but to take it into another class where it doesn’t get any standard of living increases, it seems targeted.”

"The ensuing salary reduction has been a distraction to what was otherwise a historic county budget, adopted during the toughest circumstances in the history of Onondaga County," McMahon said in his veto statement, obtained by WRVO late Sunday. "The resultant salary reduction has distracted the public from the challenges we will continue to confront together, as local leaders, in year 2021."

Czarny, in a statement Sunday night, said he's "thankful for the amount of support from the community and Democratic legislators we at the Board of Elections have received.  While I am grateful for the outcome, the independence of Boards of Elections as well as free and fair elections should be a value we all hold. I hope the same consideration will be given to the departments like the County Comptroller and DSS as well if we are truly going to unite as a County and provide for all its citizens."

The county legislature can override McMahon's veto with a two-thirds majority, but that is unlikely to happen. 

McMahon Veto Statement by WRVO News on Scribd

Jason has served as WRVO's news director in some capacity since August 2017. As news director, Jason produces hourly newscasts, and helps direct local news coverage and special programming. Before that, Jason hosted Morning Edition on WRVO from 2009-2019. Jason came to WRVO in January of 2008 as a producer/reporter. Before that, he spent two years as an anchor/reporter at WSYR Radio in Syracuse.
Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.