Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks' final budget proposal, on the surface, is not a shocking proposal. She keeps the property tax flat — her legacy accomplishment as county executive — at $8.99 per $1,000 of assessed value.
But shortly after Brooks released her plan last night, County Legislature Republicans introduced and passed a measure that could boost Sheriff Patrick O'Flynn's pay. The legislation establishes a commission to review O'Flynn's salary and to recommend to the full Legislature whether to keep it flat or increase it. Democrats voted against the proposal; Democratic Minority Leader Carrie Andrews said that it's a back-door attempt to give the sheriff a hefty pay raise.
"It is especially galling considering that just moment before, the county executive gave a budget presentation stating that due to state mandates, we only control 15 percent of the county budget," Andrews said in a statement. "This pay raise is an egregious way to spend what little we control locally when so many families continue to struggle to make ends meet."
The timing of the proposal is interesting, too, coming just days after the general election where the county's top office was on the ballot. That can hardly be a coincidence.
To be clear, no pay raise has been proposed yet, and the Legislature would have to approve any increase. Under the 2016 budget proposal, O'Flynn would be paid $136,700. That's already higher than the Erie County sheriff's $79,092 salary and the Onondaga County sheriff's $110,120 salary.
Of course, this isn't the first time Republicans have taken up a pay raise for O'Flynn, and the previous two attempts generated controversy:
- Just as legislators were set to approve the 2012 budget proposal, Republican Legislator Anthony Daniele introduced an amendment that tied the sheriff's pay to the district attorney's, which is set under state law; it bumped O'Flynn's pay from $123,030 to $136,700. Democrats objected to the last-minute nature of the change, but agreed that the increase had merit.
- Brooks' proposed 2013 budget contained a $37,000 raise for O'Flynn, a boost he had requested. The proposed raise infuriated Democrats and members of the public, and the Republicans ultimately introduced a budget amendment holding the sheriff's pay flat. Then-Democratic Legislator Mike Patterson called the proposal "tone deaf and brain dead," and argued that no government official should receive such a substantial raise in a budget that cut county staff and funding for child day care.
Brooks hit on familiar themes in her projected $1.2-billion proposal. State-required spending on programs such as Medicaid, day care, public assistance, indigent defense, and public health now make up 85 percent of the budget, she said. The rest funds county services including parks, the sheriff's office road patrol, and economic development.
The plan uses revenue from tax lien sales, property sales, and tax base growth to help close a budget gap.
And the county is holding its contribution toward child day care subsidies flat at $5.6 million, after decreases in the 2014 and 2015 budgets. Children's advocates have asked Brooks to restore the funding, but she counters that the county already pays far more than other urban Upstate counties; Monroe's required contribution is larger than the combined local contributions of Albany, Onondaga, and Erie counties.
Brooks said that the state needs to change the formula for how it funds the day care subsidies. She said that she hopes that the county, Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, and state officials can attack the issue through the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative.
"I don't know what that looks like, I'm not the expert," Brooks told reporters after her presentation.
Democrats will review the budget, Minority Leader Andrews said, and ask questions during Legislature committee meetings next week.