“He’s way, way, way underpaid,” said town of Saugerties supervisor Greg Helsmoortel about chief of police Joseph Sinagra when asked about a line item in the proposed 2018 town budget that would give the chief a 15.76 percent raise from $86,381 to $100,000. “Saugerties is the largest town in Ulster County and the chief is one of the lowest paid police chiefs,” Helsmoortel saids.
A quick check with the neighboring town of Ulster shows its newly hired chief is being paid a base salary of $113,000 that with benefits brings that number closer to $200,000.
The rest of the budget
The town of Saugerties proposed spending plan for 2018, discussed at the October 18 Town Board meeting, calls for an increase from last year’s budget of 1.15 percent, from $6,706,099 to $6,783,392. “We’ve been cutting and cutting over a number of years,” Helsmoortel says of the less than 2 percent increase in this year’s budget.
But town board member and town supervisor candidate Fred Costello Jr. says he thinks the budget needs a little bit more work and “we’re not quite done with it.”
“We’re close to something we can live with,” he added.
His opponent for town supervisor and fellow board member Jimmy Bruno disagrees. “I want to get us to a zero increase and maybe less,” Bruno says. “Now’s not the time to increase salaries. We need to clean up our house first and get it in fiscal order.”
As the budget stands now village property owners would see a slight reduction in their rate from last year’s $4.98 per $1000 of assessed value, to $4.96, which includes the town budget tax, library tax, library bond payment, and cost of Diaz Ambulance.
For town property owners the bill would rise slightly to $7.24 per $1000 of assessed value, up from last year’s $7.22 per $1000. The town rate, in addition to the town budget, library tax, library bond and ambulance, also includes the highway budget and an additional town outside the village fee.
Costello, Bruno on proposed raise for chief
The police chief pointed out that while other police chiefs take medical benefits from the town’s they serve, he does not. “I’m on my wife’s health plan,” he says.
And while Helsmoortel insists that Sinagra deserves the nearly 16 percent bump in pay, the two candidates for town supervisor say that, while they too believe he is worth more money, but if they have their way, that much of a hike won’t be part of the finalized spending plan.
Costello who’s the liaison with the police department says “Joe is going to get an increase in pay, though I don’t know what it will look like or what that number will be,” Costello said. He added that he doesn’t see the chief getting the full 15.76 percent as proposed in the budget.
Bruno said that while “I think Joe is worth the raise, and everything I see is that he’s underpaid, but I won’t be supporting it.” Bruno said the council is currently in negotiations with the police union for a new contract and by giving Sinagra such a large raise “would sent the wrong message to the rank and file.”
When asked about the size of the proposed raise, Sinagra said it’s “not that big a deal,” pointing to the amount the town of Ulster chief gets, and the other chiefs that work in much smaller towns receive. “When I came here, I wasn’t really concerned about my salary,” he says. “I was more concerned about turning this police department into a professional one and receiving certification.”
Sinagra has been on the job in Saugerties for almost six years, first coming to the town from the town of Ulster and being named deputy chief and then taking over as chief.
“Now,” he believes, “is a fair time to ask for a raise.”
He also said that he’s only one of two police chiefs in Ulster County that has a Master’s Degree, “and education should count for something.”
And while talking about asking for a raise, Sinagra said that he believes the entire department’s police employees should get a raise.
“During the last year and a half, I’ve lost four good people that have gone to other towns for higher pay,” said Sinagra. “I don’t want us to be a perpetual training ground for other departments.”
Residents will have their say on the proposed budget at a public hearing scheduled for the town board’s meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, November 1, and a copy of the proposed budget will be up on the town’s website.