Lewis County officials have developed a habit of punishing the wrong people when confronting unfunded mandates.

For the past several months, they’ve voted against a salary increase for District Attorney Leanne K. Moser despite this measure being required per state law. On April 1, her annual salary of $197,600 should have risen to $200,355. But members of the Lewis County Board of Legislators have consistently voted against this pay hike as a show of protest; they did the same thing in 2016.

When they passed the fiscal year 2016-17 budget earlier three years ago, state lawmakers approved a proposal from the New York State Commission on Legislative, Judicial and Executive Compensation to increase Supreme Court judge salaries in 2016 and 2018. County Court judges also were placed at 95 percent of the salaries for Supreme Court judges.

The state law mandates salaries for district attorneys be equal to or higher than County Court judges. So raising the salaries of these judges would automatically trigger a pay hike for district attorneys. This came with a price tag of $1.6 billion.

Yet before they approved the budget in 2016, legislators removed at Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s urging a provision to compensate counties for this added expense. Lawmakers wrapped up the state budget session with the muted expectation that counties would simply absorb the costs of these increased salaries.

County legislators have a valid point about this action being unfair. We previously endorsed on this page a proposal by state Sens. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, and Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, to ensure counties are compensated by the state for this mandate. This measure, however, was never approved.

“The root of the board’s protest is that the state contribution toward district attorney salaries has remained at $72,189 since 2014, less than half of the DA’s salary, requiring counties to foot the bill for mandated increases,” according to a story published Friday by the Watertown Daily Times. “All of Ms. Moser’s increases combined since 2016 total $47,855, the amount legislators want to be reimbursed by the state.”

So Lewis County has not received any additional funds to pay for Ms. Moser’s salary increases. And legislators have every right to oppose such a move.

However, their protest hurt the wrong individual. Ms. Moser shouldn’t be denied her lawful salary simply because county officials don’t appreciate the state forcing them to fork over the cash.

County legislators finally came to their senses at their most-recent meeting and approved Ms. Moser’s salary increase, which is retroactive to April 1. She has graciously taken all this in stride while continuing to carry out her many duties.

Officials have said their actions are not a reflection of the excellent job that Ms. Moser does as district attorney. We understand their frustration, but their protest harms no one else but her.

We agree with them that as long as the state demands higher district attorney salaries, it needs to chip in more money. Lawmakers in Albany should revisit this mandate and make amends.

But county legislators must find a better method of registering their dissent. Delaying Ms. Moser’s salary increase not only violates the law, it denies her the pay she deserves. Why should she be expected to not take that personally?

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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