AUBURN — A Cayuga County Legislature committee Wednesday approved requests from District Attorney Jon Budelmann to hire a senior assistant district attorney and request a rule change from the state to allow another to stay at his office.
The first resolution approved by the county's Judicial and Public Safety Committee requests the state Legislature to pass a Home Rule Law amendment to allow Cayuga County to create an exception to a residency requirement for assistant district attorneys.
The second resolution authorized Budelmann to hire a senior assistant district attorney at $78,000.
If the first resolution passes the full county Legislature, the county must still wait for the state Legislature to reconvene in order to pass a Home Rule Law Amendment.
Both resolutions represent Budelmann's attempt to fill vacancies in the department that have persisted for most of the year and placed a considerable burden on his office.
"We've been down one to two prosecutors all year and my people are getting tired of carrying the load," Budelmann said, citing significantly higher case loads for the remaining employees.
The home rule request would allow Budelmann to keep an employee who has been with the office since May. While Budelmann said he is in favor of residency requirements, particularly the way it requires staff to become familiar with the area and its residents, he said it simply didn't make sense in this situation.
When attempting to fill a resignation from January, he received an application from a "phenomenal" candidate. Unfortunately, although the candidate lived just six or seven miles from the Cayuga County border in Camillus, state law's residency requirements would require him to pass them over.
Although he was able to hire the candidate temporarily as the law does not specify a time frame that employees must establish residency, Budelmann told the committee he was requesting the exception to ensure they could keep such a well-qualified employee.
Similarly, Budelmann's request to hire a senior assistant district attorney came from his desire to hold onto a skilled hire. An attorney that had previously worked in his office left earlier this year, but Budelmann told the committee the requested salary would likely be enough to get them to come back.
With eight years of experience including several in Cayuga County, Budelmann said the fact that the candidate was a "known quantity" with familiarity with area law enforcement and the office itself was "invaluable."
Legislator Keith Batman, D-Springport, said he understood the need in Budelmann's office but was concerned about a larger pattern of county department heads asking for permission to hire at starting rates higher than the grading system.
Batman introduced an amendment to the resolution to strike the $78,000 from its text, allowing for the position to be filled at the base rate for the position plus the discretionary 10 percent normally allowed for approximately $76,000.
Committee Chair Andrew Dennison, R-Ira asked if approximately $2,000 difference was worth losing a qualified candidate over, while Legislator Chris Petrus, R-Brutus noted that the position would take over drug prosecutions, some badly needed in the midst of the opioid epidemic.
While the resolution sparked a renewed conversation on the county's salary grading system, something that has come up with increasing frequency at committee meetings, it ultimately failed and the original resolution was passed.
Budelmann said if he is able to fill the position, which he said is budgeted for the rest of 2018 thanks to the unspent funds from the vacancies, it would bring his office back to full staffing levels.