OSWEGO — A county legislative committee approved a resolution Tuesday to call upon state lawmakers to modify an unfunded mandate regarding county district attorney (DA) salaries.
The state presently mandates a county DA’s salary be equal to or higher than that of the area’s county court or supreme court judge. Previously the state reimbursed counties for any increases.
The county Public Safety Committee unanimously approved sending a resolution to the Oswego County Legislature in April, which would request the state de-link the salaries for those positions and pay the salary increases for the DA as had been done in the past. The resolution also called for the state to retroactively pay for the salary increases.
In addition, the committee approved an increase of $12,400 for county DA Greg Oakes’ salary effective April 1, which was previously budgeted for.
Oakes will make $197,600, the same as Oswego County Court Judges Walter Hafner and Donald Todd. The state pays the salary for the judges.
Legislator Frank Castiglia, D-Fulton, was the only member of the committee to vote against the raise for Oakes, noting it had nothing to do with the DA and everything to do with the mandate.
“We can vote, everybody can vote (the raise) down, but it’ll still have to go through as a mandate,” said Castiglia, who is the minority leader. “People will be asking ‘Why do we have to keep giving him raises?’ Well, we don’t have a choice in the matter, and we should.”
The state reimbursement for the DA salary has remained at $72,189 since 2015, even though the state has mandated an increase of $45,100, according to the resolution. The DA salary has increased 30 percent in just three years due to increases for County Court Judges.
State Assemblyman Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, agreed with the committee about the state paying for things they mandate when reached Tuesday.
“We constantly pass mandates and then don’t pay for them,” said Barclay. “If we’re going to mandate it, we have to be open to paying for it.”
While Barclay said it was not likely paying for the DA increases would be in this current budget, he would be open to supporting a standalone bill.
The county resolution stated the state has fully funded all mandated DA salary increases that were imposed for more than 50 years, but ceased the practice in 2016.
Barclay said he wasn’t so sure un-linking DA salaries from the county judges in a county would be a positive move.
“I don’t really have a problem with the DAs getting more money,” said Barclay. “They probably deserve it and by paying more, you’ll get people of better quality doing it.”
Committee chair Terry Wilbur, R-Hannibal, noted the importance of passing the increase so the county isn’t penalized or sued in the long run by the state.
“If we vote it down, you don’t really know what’s going to happen one way or another,” said Wilbur. “We don’t want to break the law.”
Legislator Brad Trudell, R-Mexico, said the resolution requesting the state take action is better than facing those potential penalties.
“This is a much better response than a symbolic ‘no,’ vote which would potentially put us in a jeopardizing position to have litigation,” said Trudell. “This is a good response and this reflects clear thinking and good leadership on our legislators and administrators.”
Oakes said after the meeting he thought the state should fully fund the DA position, as it’s a constitutional position and mandated by law.
Various items the state government has put forth this year such as bail reform, speedy trials and discovery issues all greatly impact the DA’s office, but require a lot more work, Oakes said.
“If the state wants to talk about reforms and try to decrease jail and prison populations, and giving speedy trials, which are all worthy, you have to put resources into place and not burden counties all the time,” said Oakes. “I have no objection to the (county) resolution, the state should be funding it.”
Oakes’s salary increase will go before the Finance and Personnel Committee April 3. Both resolutions will go in front of the Oswego County Legislature at the April 12 meeting.