Counties are scrambling to figure out how to pay for raises that are coming to county district attorneys as the by-product of an agreement to provide the state’s judges with raises.
In August, a special commission on judicial compensation made binding recommendations for a 27 percent pay raise that will be instituted over a three-year period, beginning April 1. Because the state’s judicial law links district attorney base pay to the base pay for county judges, the prosecutors will get raises, too.
The difference between judges and district attorneys, according to a spokesman from the state’s Division of Budget, is that judges are paid by the state and district attorneys are paid by the county.
Jon Stead, the administrative officer for Fulton County, called the required raise an “unfunded mandate” from the state.
“The county did not budget for that in 2012,” he said, asserting that there was no indication it would definitely be implemented when the county was drafting its budget. “Most counties were hoping the state would take a different tact and disconnect the district attorney’s salary from the county court judges’ ” salaries.
The other hope for counties has been action by the state Legislature, which has the power to stop the proposed raises for the judges and, by extension, the district attorneys. But the leaders of both legislative chambers had been supportive of raises, so it seems unlikely that either chamber will intervene in the issue.
Stead said because the county felt there was ambiguity surrounding the raises in the fall, the county opted to not budget the money.
Fulton County District Attorney Louise Sira has a base pay of $119,900 and this will be bumped up to $140,300 this year, $146,400 next year and $152,500 in 2014.
The county may not have to absorb this entire cost, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget includes funds to offset 40 percent of the raise this year. This would cost the county almost $13,000 extra in 2012 and Stead said he would like to see the state’s percentage increased to 100 percent.
Saratoga County has also not budgeted for the raise, which they plan on dealing with after April, according to County Administrator Spencer Hellwig. He called the raises reasonable, considering judges and district attorneys haven’t seen their base pay increase in more than 10 years. He did lament the fact that the counties were not consulted in this process.
In Saratoga County, through, District Attorney James A. Murphy III has gotten a cost of living adjustment increase in recent years.
Regarding the 27 percent raise, Hellwig said, “There is no question that Jim Murphy obviously earns every penny of that.”
Murphy said he was “appreciative” of the proposed raise for this April, but stressed that he isn’t in this job for the money. He noted that he made more in private practice in 1988 than he does now.
“The salary is important, but on the scale of things, it is one of the least important reason why I went into the District Attorney’s Office,” he said.
His scheduled pay in the 2012 Saratoga County budget is $129,102.
Schenectady County also failed to budget for the increase, which county spokesman Joe McQueen said they are now “well aware” of. He said the county is working out a plan now to absorb the increase.
McQueen said county leaders hope Cuomo’s proposal to offset 40 percent of the cost is adopted by the state, adding, “We wish it was more.”
Based on information gathered from the fiscal watchdog the Empire Center, the district attorneys for Montgomery, Schoharie and Schenectady counties all appear to make a base rate pay of $119,800.