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The Cayuga County Legislature Tuesday approved a 35-hour work week for elected and appointed officials and later, in committee, approved the same work week for legislators, coming closer to putting an end to an issue that has riled board members and their constituents.

The public outcry that has met the board’s efforts to shorten their work week, which would allow some to collect a greater pension, continued at a special meeting of the full Legislature Tuesday, where two community members spoke about the concerns echoed by many in recent weeks.

“Every one of you will have said to us...that you lied to us about the reasons for why you are in this – not for the greater good of the community, but for something for yourselves,” said Greg Rigby, who serves as the chair of the county’s conservative party.

Later that night, the Government Operations Committee approved a motion by Legislator Christopher Palermo to keep the board’s 35-hour work week. Legislators George Fearon and Timothy Lattimore voted against. The 35-hour work week for legislators must be approved by the Ways and Means Committee and the full Legislature.

Palermo said he made the motion to put an end to an issue he believes has received too much attention.

“This issue has been blown so out of proportion I’m going to be sick,” Palermo said.

The county is required by state pension law to set a work week for elected and appointed officials that do not clock hours for payroll. Pensions are determined by a formula that takes into consideration the minimum wage rate, employee salary and hours worked.

The resolution passed by the full Legislature Tuesday set a 35-hour work week for the clerk and deputy clerk of the Legislature, the county treasurer, the county attorney, the highway department superintendent and a civil service commissioner. Legislator Michael Chapman voted against; Legislator Steve Cuddeback was not present.

A resolution to decrease legislators’ work week from 35 hours to 30 hours was approved in committee last month and pulled by the full Legislature. Shortening the work week would allow some legislators to earn a greater pension. Legislators’ work weeks must be set between 30 and 40 hours to be considered full-time employees. More than 30 counties in the state have a 30-hour work week for elected officials, according to a survey by county officials.

Fearon said shortening the work week would not have significantly affected pensions for most legislators. Only the top earners of those who are still eligible to run more terms would have seen the affects a shorter work week on their pension, he said.

Some dissenters say they are not concerned about how much more legislators will be able to collect, but are upset about the message the action sends.

“I don’t care if it’s another dime that comes in or out of someone’s pocket,” said Rigby.

Legislators have also expressed opposition to the measure and say that, as the county works to cut costs by cutting jobs, a measure that boosts their own benefits in any way sends the wrong message.

Legislator Roger Mills, who was among those opposed to a shorter work week, said he takes issue with setting a full-time schedule for legislators at all.

“I didn’t take this job as a full-time Legislator,” Mills said. “I think it’s a mistake to suggest every Legislator spends a minimum of 30 to 35 hours a week doing their duties.”

As of August 2009, elected officials must submit to the state retirement system a three month calendar of hours worked. The state determines retirement credit based on the number of hours logged and reported. Meetings, business trips, time spent with constituents and time spent responding to e-mail count toward their hours.

Staff writer Sarah Gantz can be reached at 282-2237 or sarah.gantz@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter at CitizenGantz.

 

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