Cortland County Legislature Approves Pay Raises for County Employees

(Photo Source: Kevin L. Smith/The Cortland Voice).

Cortland County employees who belong to the local Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) and New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) bargaining units will receive a 4-percent wage increase, and department heads and management employees will receive a 2-percent raise, according to a pair of resolutions approved by the county legislature at Tuesday’s meeting.

The pay increases, which have long been touted by county leaders as potential solutions to issues of employee retention and competition with the private sector and neighboring counties, were the subject of a contentious and lengthy discussion. 

The 4-percent wage increase, which Cortland County Legislature Chair Paul Heider (R-LD16) said was approximately 80 cents for the average CSEA position, passed via a 12-4 vote. The 2-percent pay increase to department heads passed via a vote of 11-5, but an amendment to increase that salary bump to 4 percent that was proposed by Legislature Minority Beau Harbin (D-LD 2) was disapproved via a 10-6 vote.

The 4-percent wage increase, which would affect approximately 300 CSEA positions, would take effect on Oct. 31. The 2-percent pay raise would kick in on Nov. 19, according to county estimates. 

The 2-percent pay increase for department heads and management employees, which Harbin estimated at 100 positions, would be an addition to the pay increases these employees get through the county’s step schedule. The step schedule, according to legislator Kelly Preston (LD10) provides a 4-percent pay increase for every two years.  

Legislator Joseph Nauseef (R-LD12) noted he is in favor of approving raises to employees, but would favor means to testing raises to target the lower earning employees.  

“My concern is that we will not be able to afford this without raising the taxes of our overburdened civilians of our county,” Nauseef said, who voted no on both resolutions. “We need to slow our step a little bit and be careful on how we do this.”

County administrator Rob Corpora noted that the county has allocated revenue from the proposed 2022 county budget to cover pay increases across the board. Harbin added both pay increase resolutions would cost the county just over $520,000.

“There is money in there for these resolutions on the table tonight without going to fund balance or using reserves. This is totally sustainable,” Corpora said, noting that this is the first budget in some years that hasn’t had the county dip into reserve accounts to cover shortfalls in revenue. “This is a Band-Aid to stop the bleeding so we can move forward with getting our employees competitive wages.”

Corpora noted that on average management employees and department heads make 15.1 percent less than those occupying the same positions in neighboring counties or in the private sector. 

“We are having trouble getting employees, retaining employees to provide the services that we need to provide,” he said. “We are probably at an all-time low as far as personnel actually working for us.”

Harbin spoke in favor of the raises, adding the pay increases are a first step in trying to address employee retention and morale.

“We have had opportunities for years to address this problem and lots of people in this legislature have had opportunities to do it and we have failed time and time again,” he said. “Insanity is continuing to not do anything while our county bleeds, our employees leave, and we end up with a public that is not able to get the services they expect from us as a county government.”

Heider said in response to Harbin that the county has made attempts at correcting salary allocations to improve employee retention and morale.

“I disagree with the assertion that this legislative body has not done anything about this problem. It is wrong and I take offense to that as one of the leaders of this legislature,” Heider said. “As soon as I got into my position, I started working with other legislators to start reallocating positions when necessary and moving on from there. We reallocated 10-to-12 positions and started working on salary issues with Corpora and other committee chairs and legislators. Please do not say this legislature has done nothing.”