ALBANY COUNTY All was well with the 2016 County budget put forth by County Executive Dan McCoy in advance of the September primary elections-it contained no tax increase and legislators on both sides of the aisle were prepared to approve it.
Then, in the 11th hour, certain expenditures were mysteriously added. Confused legislators questioned 12 percent raises that suddenly appeared for the three top county officials: McCoy, Sheriff Craig Apple and Comptroller Mike Conners; 2 percent raises for each of the legislators; and additional attorney positions for the offices of the sheriff and county executive.
No one, it seems, would admit to adding the items. “We repeatedly asked the leadership how they got there,” one legislator told Spotlight in early December. “And no one would give us a straight answer.”
Deputy Minority Leader Richard Mendick (R-36) and outgoing Democrat Tim Nichols (D-19) were the most vocal in their opposition to the additions and offered a number of amendments attempting to strip those expenditures from the budget before approving it.
“All of these positions came to us without a great deal of documentation, after the budget that we originally received,” argued Mendick.
Nichols, criticizing the process that led to the additions, said that he could not, “in good faith,” support the budget as it was. He proposed moving some of those funds to the legislative Ethics Commission instead-a commission that he said has received only $250 in each of the four years since its inception.
After a lengthy and heated discussion, and several roll call votes on proposed amendments, legislators ultimately approved the raises for themselves, leaving the door open to give themselves raises aligned with other non-union county workers over the next four years. They also approved the additional counsel positions and the raises for McCoy, Apple and Conners.
“Is it any wonder that our constituents and the public are outraged?” asked a clearly angry Nichols, after pointing out that the budget contains no increase to the Social Security COLA (cost of living adjustment) in 2016.
The $610 million budge passed with a voice vote-meaning that individual votes are not on the record, a method that has since been questioned for its legality and drawn criticism from legislators who would like their constituents to know how they voted.
Attempts to call a roll call vote for this purpose were unsuccessful, but legislators have indicated they will likely require roll call votes for all future budgets.