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St. Lawrence County ADA raises will be debated

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CANTON — The question of raises for St. Lawrence County assistant district attorneys is expected to come up again at the June 2 meeting of the Board of Legislators, with no clear consensus yet.

District Attorney Mary E. Rain came to the board in February after she took office with a plan on increasing salaries, making more efficient use of space, centralizing her office, and having police handle some of their own prosecutions.

Despite Ms. Rain being a Republican, a number of Democrats on the board have rallied to support her while Republicans have taken a dimmer view of spending money without more of their input.

Finance Committee Chairman Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, has been working with Ms. Rain on increasing the salaries of her assistant district attorneys and finding her office more space in the courthouse.

“There’s no secret deal. I like her plan. I like the fact that she had a plan,” Mr. Morrill said. “I think we need to pay what it takes to get our D.A. what she says she needs. I respect what she’s accomplished. If it’s working, it can save us hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Mr. Morrill pointed to recent jail inmate numbers that are in the 140s instead of the 160s that they were a few months ago, and to recent big arrests made under Ms. Rain’s watch as evidence that her administration is getting the court system moving.

Mr. Morrill presented legislators with proposed salary hikes for ADAs that range from 13 percent to 23 percent. Chief Assistant District Attorney David A. Haggard’s salary would go from $80,816 to $98,575, making him paid more than any department head. The raises would total about $48,000.

The issue was tabled for more research and for a legislative committee on management salaries to consider its own recommendation.

A report from the New York State Association of Counties on the cost of providing prosecution and indigent defense in other counties was not particularly helpful because it looks at overall costs, not average salaries.

St. Lawrence County Human Resources Director Christopher S. Boulio determined that the region’s average salary for ADAs is $63,352. For public defenders, it is $57,243.

The county’s average salary for ADAs is $60,396, but would be $62,944 if the proposed changes went through. For public defenders, the county average salary is $62,780.

In Jefferson County, the chief ADA has a salary of $92,405 with 17 years of service, while in Franklin County the chief ADA has a salary of $88,000 with 14 years of service.

Mr. Boulio’s research, however, leaves out several other nearby counties, where average salaries for ADAs are higher, Mr. Morrill said. Including those is not the total answer either, he said.

“While we may want to compare locally, we compete statewide,” he said.

Mr. Morrill acknowledged he does not have the support of all Democrats on the board.

“I can’t say I do,” he said.

The county management salary committee has a proposal of its own.

Legislator Alex A. MacKinnon, R-Fowler, declined to specify the recommendation.

“I don’t want to put it out now until the full board has seen it,” he said. “It’s been tabled to that night, and we’ll see what happens.”

Legislator Stephen M. Putman, D-Canton, the only Democrat on the committee, said the recommendation was for an increase but not one that reaches the level presented by Mr. Morrill.

Mr. Putman said he initially agreed with committee members who were present on the recommendation but has learned that they may not have gotten the whole story on talks Ms. Rain had with county officials about appropriate salary step levels for the ADAs.

“None of that information was presented to the committee. This is a little troubling,” Mr. Putman said. “I think it will just play out among the 15 legislators. I don’t know how I will come down.”

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