County committee votes down proposed planning director salary increase

Cortland County office building. (Photo Source: Kevin L. Smith/Cortland Voice)

The proposed salary bump to the vacant planning director position was voted down by members of the Cortland County Legislature Finance and Administration Committee earlier this week. 

The item will still be brought in front of the legislative session at 6 p.m. next Thursday, as the measure originally passed the County Agriculture, Planning, and Environmental Committee earlier this month, according to Legislature Clerk Savannah Hempstead.

The new planning director would come with added responsibilities focused on economic development, as well as a salary that is anywhere from $91,771 to $122,148 based on experience. This would bump the position from a grade 5 to a grade 3 role. As a grade 5 position, the salary range for the role was anywhere between $79,412 to $105,698, based on experience. Other department heads sit in grade 3.

The county has only had about three applications for the vacant role in the few months since former director Trisha Jesset left the county last fall

“We had applications, those applications are no longer there,” said Legislative Minority Leader Beau Harbin (D-LD-2). At the AP&E committee, legislators tried to change the title to add the duties of economic development to the title, Harbin said.

“We didn’t move forward with that because of the civil service issues it’d pose with the state,” he said. “It’d take six-to-12 months to just get that title changed.”

Added duties would include the following, according to a document in the county’s agenda portal:

  • (The planning director) guides the preparation of feasibility studies and statistical analysis for planning reports, including supervision of consultant documents.
  • Recommends economic development projects for consideration by the director and respective organizations, including the Legislature and the Industrial Development Agency (IDA). (e.g. IDA, Legislature, etc.).
  • Participates in regional, state and federal planning activities, including review of new planning and environmental legislation.
  • Assesses infrastructure needs in the county, recommends solutions to resolve them and implement projects.
  • Applies for grant and loan funds to accomplish the mission of the department.
  • Works with and is the liaison to other economic and development agencies in the county.

“When it comes to federal and state grants, our country has missed out,” Harbin said. “Other counties with more robust and senior staff have been able to bring millions of dollars in those areas. We expect this job to be revenue-plus.”

The salary bump, he noted, would allow for the county to bring in a larger pool of applicants.

“We are competing with other counties. This is a position that starts at $130,000-plus in Onondaga County,” Harbin said.

Legislators Richard Stock (R-LD-6) and Sandra Price (D-LD-14) voted against the measure, agreeing the salary increase is a “very big jump.”

County administrator Rob Corpora said the county does a good job at bringing in economic development, but could do even better with a dedicated position.

“At this point, people are talking about our wages being low. To offset raising them, we have to bring money for the county,” he said. “We have few ways to do that: grants, raising taxes, and economic development. That is why this is one of the key benefits of this revised position, it helps bring in new businesses into the county.”

Price said she worried that the new salary bump would affect the morale of other department heads.

“It will be confusing and conflicting with the contract agency (Cortland County Business Development Corporation – BDC) we already pay more than half a million dollars to do economic development,” she added.

Corpora said department heads understand it has been difficult to fill the position.

“Their biggest question to me is ‘why did we have to wait for someone to leave to change things,’ which is a very valid concern,” Corpora said.