MAYVILLE – The term length for members of the Chautauqua County Legislature could be getting longer, and the salary for the county executive, county sheriff and county clerk could also be seeing an increase.
The Chautauqua County Legislature will act next month on a three separate amendments to the Chautauqua County Charter that have been recommended by the County Charter and Administrative Code Review Commission.
One local law involves increasing the term-length for the 19-member legislative body from 2 to 4 years, starting January 2018. Legislature Chairman Jay Gould (R-Ashville) tells WRFA that a lack of contested races in recent elections for many of the legislature’s districts has led to the recommended change.
“It’s hard to get people to run. Last time I think there was only nine contested races (out of 19). It’s getting harder and harder to get [candidates],” Gould said.
Gould also says that he doesn’t expect everyone will be in favor of the recommended change. “There’s pros and cons both ways,” he said. “Sometimes [voters] want to get rid of somebody in two years.”
Another concern, which was laid out in a December 2014 editorial of the Post-Journal, is that legislators don’t have much time to focus on representing their district and focus on the business of the county because they have to take time out every two years to run for re-election.
Chautauqua County Democratic Committee Chairman Norman Green, whose party currently only has four members on the legislature, tells WRFA he supports a four-year term.
“I agree with the four year term, as it has become impossible to find candidates to oppose incumbents and many of the incumbents run over and over again with opposition,” Green said, adding that he would even go a step further and suggest term limits for the legislature. “I would favor term limits for the county legislators to go along with the four-year terms – say three four year terms should be enough for any one person and this would guarantee new energy and new ideas coming forward with some regularity.”
Green, who also serves as one of the county’s two election commissioners, adds that even if the terms were increased to four years, it wouldn’t result in any savings for the County Board of Elections because local elections would stay take place every two years.
Despite how the legislature votes in July, Gould says that even if approved by lawmakers the local law would still require a vote via public referendum. “The four year term would have to go to referendum. So we have to act on it now if it were to go to a public referendum in the fall,” he said.
SALARY INCREASE PROPOSED FOR COUNTY OFFICES
In addition to the possibility of changing term lengths, the legislature will also consider making changes for the salary of the County executive, clerk and sheriff.
An amendment to the charter has been introduced increasing the County Executive’s salary from the current amount of $85,000/year to $92,500. The County Clerk’s salary is seeing a proposed increase from $53,000 to $55,500. And the County Sheriff’s salary would go from $82,500 to $85,000.
Gould says initially the charter review commission had considered an even larger increase for both the executive and clerk, considering it’s been 14 years since the last time those offices had an increase in pay.
“It was discussed [by the commission] that the pay should’ve been a little more, but it wasn’t because of financial concerns,” Gould said. “Since 2002 the sheriff has seen a couple of raises, but the county executive and clerk haven’t seen a salary increase since 2002.”
If the amendment were approved by the legislature in July, the increases wouldn’t go into effect until the start of the new term for each respective office.
A third charter amendment would involve increasing the amount of votes needed for using fund balance, should that force the fund to go below 5 percent of gross revenues. Currently a simple majority (10 out of 19 legislators) is only needed but the proposed amendment would increase that to a 60 percent (12 out of 19).
The local laws were introduced Wednesday night during the June voting session. They will be acted during the legislature’s regular voting session next month on July 27.