FULTON COUNTY — The Fulton County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will vote on a resolution to add a combined total of $60,000 to the 2023 salaries of the county’s four assistant district attorney positions in a bid to increase recruitment of new prosecutors by bringing them into pay scale parity with the county’s assistant public defenders.
During a review of the county’s 2023 $117.5 million tentative budget last week, Gloversville 6th Ward Supervisor Warren Greene, chairman of the county’s public safety committee, raised the issue of the need for a $14,676 increase to the base pay of each of the county’s four assistant district attorney jobs, two of which are currently vacant.
Greene said that while Fulton County Acting District Attorney Amanda Nellis had alerted the supervisors’ public safety committee to the problem, no changes had been made for the county’s tentative budget.
“Amanda came in several times, never asked for a motion on it, but did discuss the fact that the salaries were low enough, for whatever attorneys would consider [to be too low], where she was having trouble getting people to accept the position and also retaining the positions,” Greene said. “It just hits me that — crime is perceived to be a big issue these days — and it’s almost become a bit of an arms race, but I do believe that the assistant district attorneys, for what they are asked to do vis-a-vis the public defenders, are underpaid, so I’m looking to bring the assistant district attorneys up to the same level as the assistant public defenders.”
County Administrator Jon Stead said he discussed the issue of payscale parity between the county’s assistant district attorneys and assistant public defenders with Fulton County District Attorney-elect Michael Poulin in June following his victory over Nellis in the Republican Party primary.
“I brought up with him, at the time, that I had thought we had already adjusted the assistant DAs to match the assistant PDs, when all of the [New York state Indigent Legal Services fund] started rolling in and pouring in,” Stead said. “To my surprise — I have to be honest with you — I went back and looked, double checked and realized, no. I had thought [former Fulton County District Attorney Chad] Brown was going to do that. It did not get put into the system. I was looking. I looked it all up, and we never did do that.”
The New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services, which provides state grant funding to counties to pay for public defenders, in recent years has increased the amount of money available, requiring Fulton County to hire additional full-time assistant public defenders who in 2023 are set to receive salaries of about $96,000, while Fulton County’s assistant DAs were set to receive about $82,032.
“I know Amanda Nellis thought about [requesting the raises for assistant DAs], talked about doing it, but it never came to the right timing, and so forth, so she did not submit,” Stead said. “So, Mr. Poulin, as a follow up, did contact me [approximately two weeks ago] and asked me if he could come in and look at the budget again, because he knew some changes might have been made with the finance committee meeting a couple of times. I told him I didn’t know of anything that changed specifically on line items, since finance looked at it. I wasn’t aware of anything. So, he did come in last week and talked about it, talked about this issue with me.”
Stead told the board that he had told Poulin that normally the county’s budget process would not address concerns of “department head-elects” or new department head requests after the tentative budget had solidified.
“But this was something the board had talked about, theoretically, at committee level, and otherwise, a little bit, ahead of time, months ago, years ago almost, so I said the only thing I could do is suggest that he [Poulin], post haste, send a letter to the chairman of the board, so this could get discussed before the budget is adopted, at least about the money part,” Stead said.
Stead said the Fulton County district attorney’s office budget calls for three regular assistant district attorneys and one first assistant district attorney with a higher pay scale. The county’s first assistant district attorney must meet all of the legal requirements of becoming district attorney, including that the person must be a resident of Fulton County, while the three regular assistant DA positions can be filled by lawyers living in contiguous border counties.
Stead said Poulin has requested the $14,676 raises for all four assistant DA jobs.
“He believes, in order to get a transition going, recruit, and do what he needs to do, the first assistant, which has to be designated by law as the first assistant DA, he would also like to increment [raise] that same amount [about] $15,000 in order to keep the ‘head room,’ differential, more or less the same,” Stead said.
Stead said he’s discussed the assistant DA pay issue with Fulton County Personnel Director Terri Souza who thought there would be little benefit in attempting to study the pay offered to other county assistant DAs in New York state.
“She and I both agreed that we would probably come up with a very similar number, and it would delay this transition,” Stead said. “Going into a new year, if we were to have another [assistant DA] leave and so forth, I think you’re into an emergency situation, trying to keep up with the defense side of the house. It is a difficult situation, and kind of an unusual one … frankly, for good government, it is probably good timing to get this done with before they start recruiting, because, otherwise you’re going to have the month of January and February where there are going to be vacancies sitting there.”
Greene said Poulin must be allowed to “shop for the groceries” necessary to cook a more satisfying meal with respect to prosecuting crime in Fulton County, likening his position to former National Football League coach Bill Parcells who often commented that in order to win games, a coach must have greater say in which players his team acquires.
Fulton County’s adopted 2022 budget included $1.202 million for the district attorney’s budget, but, due largely to staff vacancies, the actual spending under Nellis for 2022 was only $609,751, according to figures provided in the county’s 2023 tentative budget.
The Fulton County District Attorney’s office budget for Poulin in 2023 was already set to increase to $1.312 million before the additional raises for the assistant DAs were added for consideration.
Greene’s motion to create the resolution to raise the assistant DA salaries was passed unanimously by the board during its budget meeting on Nov. 21, and will be on the agenda for its meeting on Tuesday at 1 p.m.