Hugh Reynolds: The price of leadership

Esopus Town Supervisor Diane McCord is hoping to give her successor something to remember her by when she leaves office in December: a hefty pay raise.

The current salary of $32,197 has been in place for a number of years. McCord recommends an increase to $50,000 in order to attract the kind of person willing to work full-time (and then some) as the town’s chief executive officer and cheerleader.

Democrat McCord, who served for more than 20 years as clerk and on the town board, chose not to seek re-election after just a single term as supervisor. She has paid her dues. Whether the position is grossly underpaid as she suggests remains a subject of discussion.

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A survey of town supervisor salaries and populations McCord presented to the town board last week showed that her salary (just above a $15-an-hour minimum wage) ranks among the lowest in towns of comparable population. The recommended salary of $50,000 for Esopus would put the town up there with Woodstock ($54,000) and Olive ($53,000), towns with substantially less population. In Hardenburgh (population: 238), where bears outnumber people, the supervisor is paid $18,000 a year.

There are various ways to interpret these numbers; I’m not sure comparing salaries to population is the best.

Saugerties, with 19,000 people, pays its supervisor just $35,000, about $1.70 per capita. Esopus pays $3.50, the City of Kingston about $3.20. Woodstock pays its supervisor three times the per capita rate of Kingston and Esopus.

If anyone should be asking for a raise for a successor, it should be Greg Helsmoortel of Saugerties, due to retire at the end of this year. But nobody is going to support doubling the supervisor’s salary to achieve some kind of parity with Kingston and Esopus.

From what I hear, the problem in Esopus is that candidates are not exactly lining up to replace the retiring supervisor, at least at the current going rate. In Saugerties, every other elected official and more than few on the fringes see themselves as executive timber.

Give McCord credit for raising an issue too often whispered behind closed doors or given lip service in the rush to adopt annual budgets. Good help is hard to find. Money can’t always buy talent, but dangling a little more bait can’t really hurt.

 

Lights out

I found legislature Chairman Ken Ronk’s logic difficult to follow regarding county Airbnb policy, but was pretty sure of the motive. County comptroller and designated piñata Elliott Auerbach recommended the county pursue an estimated $250,000 in fresh revenue via lodging fees more than a year ago, with Airbnb collecting it. Had this seemingly sensible idea been recommended by the executive, or even the legislature, they’d be banking the shekels by now. Coming from comptroller Auerbach, it’s dead on arrival.

Ronk explained that the there are two ways to collect the money: either an existing county bed tax or from fees collected upfront from purveyors by Airbnb.

“They [the people who rent out a spare bedroom or two to travelers or even their homes] are supposed to be collecting the bed tax,” Ronk said. “Most don’t know that.”

A fee collected by a third party, he says, does not have the force of law of a tax rendered directly unto Caesar. But the law is already on the books, and they’re not collecting the tax.

Ronk says the county will seek home-rule authority from the state to allow the imposition of a county bed tax on Airbnb lodging. “We want to do it right,” says Ronk.

According to Auerbach, a dozen other counties around the state are collecting the fees.

In other county news, the biannual passion play known as the sales-tax extension goes into its final act after legislators return from spring break next week. Assemblyman Frank Skartados of Milton will carry the bill in the people’s house. Senator George Amedore will do the same in the House of Lords. The extension is worth almost $30 million a year, close to 10 percent of the county budget.

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, after several battles with County Exec Mike Hein, says he might even vote for it this year. Do I detect a thaw, or just exasperation?

 

State budget post-mortem

As they say in Albany, all’s well that ends well, which is to say adopting a state budget a few days late over a weekend is OK if almost everybody gets something. But not without some theater.

Assembly Democrats took turns lampooning Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whom they blamed for costing them a pay raise last December. Cuomo, watching via live feed, took the abuse for a while, then phoned Speaker Carl Heastie to say that enough was enough.

Before that, temperatures in cavernous Assembly chambers began to drop, unlike state taxes. It got so that legislators had their hands in their own pockets for a change.

Was the governor turning down the heat to turn up the heat? A faulty boiler was blamed.

At least school boards can sleep at night what with across-the-board aid increases.   Kingston’s projected double-digit hike in state aid should translate into at least a modest tax decrease, but don’t bet on it.

 

Up the GOP

Ulster County Republicans, riding the crest of last year’s national elections, attracted a nice crowd for their annual fundraising dinner last week. About 230 tickets were sold at $100 a head at The Chateau in Kingston, even if some considered a Friday-night dinner during Lent ill-advised.

Highlight of the evening was when party Chairman Roger Rascoe held up a huge placard of Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, confirmed by the post-nuclear option Senate only hours before. “Democrats understood that the only real issue in last year’s presidential elections was the Supreme Court,” Rascoe roared to cheers from the faithful. I didn’t hear much talk about Donald Trump.

Congressman John Faso gave what must be his standard stand-up routine. To the likely relief of Republicans, there were no protestors waving placards at the entrance of the facility.

 

Judicial derby

The pending retirement of state Supreme Court Appellate Judge Karen Peters already has candidates circling the prize, even with the judicial nominating conventions six months away.

Peter Crummey, Republican town judge of Colonie, the first to officially declare, was warmly received at the Kingston Republican dinner. Meanwhile, Ulster Democrats Kevin Bryant of Kingston and Julian Schreibman of Marbletown have been making the rounds. Schreibman, a former county chairman, ran for Congress against Chris Gibson in 2012. His 133,000-vote total remains the standard for Democratic congressional candidates in the 19th Congressional District. Much of that district lies within the seven-county Third Judicial District. Schreibman hasn’t run for anything since.

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Bryant, the City of Kingston’s top lawyer, ran in a Democratic primary for Family Court judge in 2014. His City Hall experience could be an asset in a court that deals with such issues. Endorsement in the Democratic primary by the Conservative and Working Families parties would suggest broad appeal.

For better or worse, the die will likely be cast in the Capital District, seat of Democratic power. If capital leaders buy into the notion of replacing an Ulster judge with another native, all well and good for Ulster. If not, only a divided Albany delegation will offer hope. No Democrat has publicly emerged from the capital. It is still early.

 

Loose ends

I got a note from the sixth floor of the County Office Building last week advising there are three things that cannot be hidden: “the sun, the moon and the truth.” They didn’t mention anybody’s butt.

Accompanying the note, written in impressively neat cursive, was official documentation from recent court action featuring Comptroller Auerbach versus the county executive and legislature. I had written that Auerbach had not claimed legal fees of some $12,000, and that the county had committed to a $10,000 limit for its outside counsel, Cook, Netter of Kingston.

Auerbach told us he’d only claim fees if he won, which in hindsight was disingenuous. Nobody gets court costs when they lose. In fact, he had asked for reimbursement, which the judge denied.

Auerbach confirmed this week that he had separately vouchered the county for $3,400 in expenses to pay for an expert witness, Policy Innovation Inc. of Albany, which he had hired in order to refute claims by defendants. The county finance commissioner rejected that invoice “upon legal advice” (from the Hein-appointed county attorney) for payment “until a full decision is made by the court.”

A call to Cook, Netter regarding their charges to the county was not returned.

Meanwhile, Auerbach says his legal team will pursue an appeal “to address the many questions left unanswered by the judge.”

And finally, I mistakenly referred to the Netter at Cook, Netter as “Nettle” in last week’s column. Pardon the confusion, but George Nettle, father and son, were my mechanics from years ago. Attorney Bob Netter’s late father, Lou Netter, hired me at the Freeman.

There is one comment

  1. Grant Reachet

    It is the county head of finance who’s civic duty is to collect bed and breakfast tax hotel motel rooming house fraternity house hostel sorority house lodge inn says state law
    Who collects federal grant money and publishes their account figures for the public at the village level town level. County doesn’t have those numbers for grants

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