TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—Tompkins County officials are looking to sweeten the job of county administrator as they search for former administrator Jason Molino’s replacement, in the form of an 18.5 percent pay raise that would make the Tompkins County Administrator job the highest-salaried County Administrator job in the state (excluding counties that have elected executives, are led by board chairs, etc) outside of New York City at $160,000 per year.

The move was discussed at Monday’s Expanded Budget, Capital and Personnel Committee as they pondered how to best attack recruiting for Molino’s replacement. The position is currently filled by Lisa Holmes on an interim basis; Molino departed in May for a job with Livingston County after publicly guiding Tompkins County through the COVID-19 pandemic, along with Public Health Director Frank Kruppa.

Molino’s tenure drew praise, particularly in light of the pandemic response, and with that in mind, county legislators seemed poised to make the position as appealing as possible for the next batch of candidates. The legislature will appoint the eventual replacement—Tompkins County is one of 21 counties in New York State that have an appointed county administrator, while the other 36 non-New York City counties either have county executives, county managers or board chairs.

Of those 21 counties, Tompkins County’s Administrator would have the highest salary despite overseeing the sixth-highest population among them. Committee Chair Deborah Dawson did point out that other counties have other enticements that Tompkins County doesn’t offer, like housing allowances or car expenditures, among others.

“I’ve thought for some time that our county administrator is underpaid, and I think it’s going to be a problem for us to recruit unless we have a better pay scale,” said legislator Mike Lane, comparing the pay to what the president of Tompkins Cortland Community College is paid yearly, as well as the perks and benefits that accompany that job. “If you want a good person, and they’re going to have a lot of responsibility […] I think it’s an important position that deserves to be adequately paid.”

Legislator Martha Robertson cautioned that making the salary too high could attract someone for the wrong reasons, especially considering the arduous hours that are often demanded of someone in the position.

“There has to be a spirit that understands that you do what the job needs, lots and lots of people are depending on you to do what the job needs,” Robertson said. “Even if it’s not within a 9-5 framework.”

Her counterpart, Glenn Morey, floated the idea of offering even more money, closer to $175,000. Legislator Leslie Schill suggested that the county offer a salary range, with Shawna Black agreeing. Robertson disagreed, though, saying that going past $160,000 would be sending the wrong message to existing county staffers.

By the end, the decision to set the salary at $160,000, with some potential wiggle room for a negotiation, was passed unanimously. The salary offer may need to be approved as a resolution before it becomes official, Dawson said, but more or less as a formality. Some consideration given to making it clear that regardless of salary the position still must answer and report to the Tompkins County Legislature.

“Basically, we want to tell this person that they’re not going to be a bossy-pants, but they’re going to be reporting to 14 bossy-pantses,” Dawson said, drawing laughs from the other legislators.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com