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Jan 28, 2014 2:22 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Hampton Bays Fire District Treasurer's Salary Has Doubled Since Taking Office

Feb 4, 2014 11:19 AM

Within two years of being appointed, the treasurer of the Hampton Bays Fire District saw her salary nearly double to more than $57,000, making her one of the more handsomely paid fire district treasurers in Southampton Town—and district officials have so far refused to explain why.

Brad Pinsky, the head of an Syracuse-based law firm that represents fire districts throughout the state, said upstate fire district treasurers typically earn between $10,000 and $20,000 annually, while the high end for Long Island fire districts is usually near $30,000 for the same position—or less than half what Hampton Bays Fire District Treasurer Christine Kenny is now earning, according to online records.

Ms. Kenny—the wife of Kevin Kenny, a longtime member of the Hampton Bays Board of Fire Commissioners and a former board chairman—was earning about $30,000 when she was appointed to the position in 2009. But her salary jumped to $47,769 in 2010, and then she received another raise of nearly $10,000 in 2011, during which she made $57,395, according to www.seethroughny.net, a website run by the Empire Center for New York State Policy, an independent nonprofit based in Albany.

Ms. Kenny earned $59,252 in 2012 and $61,340 in 2013, according to the same website, though her 2014 salary was not yet listed.

“It seems exceedingly high,” Mr. Pinsky said, referring to Ms. Kenny’s current salary. “Getting paid $60,000 only for the role of treasurer seems exceedingly high.”

When reached last week, Ms. Kenny, who was reelected to a three-year term in December, declined to explain in detail why her job justifies such a high compensation. When reached prior to last month’s election, in which she faced no challengers, Ms. Kenny refused to disclose her salary.

“Believe me, there are reasons why it would go up—it wouldn’t just go up for no reason,” Ms. Kenny said on Friday, adding that other fire district treasurers who earn less than her “probably only work six hours a week, but I work much more than that.”

Ms. Kenny declined to further discuss the reasons for her higher salary, and also refused to say what her duties are within the fire district.

A Freedom of Information Act request filed on December 12 with the Hampton Bays Fire District, seeking the salaries of all fire district employees—and information on any other compensation they might be receiving from the district—was rejected on January 14 by Richard Durand, the chairman of the Hampton Bays Board of Fire Commissioners. In his rejection letter, which is being appealed by The Press on the grounds that it violates access to public records, cites sections of the New York State Freedom of Information and Personal Privacy Protection laws suggesting that granting the request would be an unwarranted invasion of privacy.

“If you are seeking any information related to salary beyond the actual salary amount, that request is denied,” Mr. Durand wrote. “Furthermore, with regard to any district employee’s [sic] whose salary information for the years in questions [sic], have not been publicly disclosed and who have not given a written authorization for the release of the information, the request is denied.”

Also, rather than provide The Press with the requested salary information, Mr. Durand instead directed a reporter to www.seethroughny.net—an action that fails to honor the FOIA request, according Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York Department of State Committee on Open Government.

Mr. Freeman explained that as a tax-funded entity, the Hampton Bays Fire District must provide the salary information of its employees upon written request. He also noted that whether a public employee receives benefits also qualifies as public information, as long as the specifics of the coverage plan are not disclosed. The Press request did not seek specific coverage plan information.

Mr. Freeman added that public employees do not have to give authorization in order for their salary information to be released. “Public employees have less privacy than others,” he said. “It has been clear for decades that the salary information for every public employee in this state, from the dog catcher to the governor, is public information.”

No portion of the FOIA request filed last month by The Press was granted by Mr. Durand, who has not returned calls seeking an explanation for the FOIA rejection or the salary collected by the district’s treasurer.

Every fire district in New York State is required to have a treasurer to maintain budgetary controls and report to the board of commissioners. Treasurers are either elected or appointed, and they often are paid, although salaries vary greatly. And, in some instances, a treasurer wears multiple hats, such as also serving as the district treasurer.

Ms. Kenny serves only as treasurer of the Hampton Bays Fire District, which has an operating budget of $2,930,065 for 2014; the district’s operating budget was $2,933,848 last year. Also, the salary information for Fire District Secretary David Van Scoy and District Manager Stephen Gregory do not appear on www.seethroughny.net. Their exact responsibilities is also unclear, as Hampton Bays Fire District officials have not returned several calls placed in recent weeks.

In a letter that accompanied the fire district’s rejection letter to the FOIA, Stanley Orzechowski, a Nesconset-based attorney who represents the district, asked The Press to disclose “the purpose or purposes for which you have requested this information,” as well as “the person or persons who have prompted or suggested that you initiate this request for information.” The letter authored by Mr. Orzechowski also asks what “objective or objectives [The Press] intend[s] to accomplish with the information.”

The state’s laws regarding public documents do not require the person or organization seeking such information to explain why the information is sought or what will be done with it, and rejecting a request for that reason is a violation of the FOIA.

Mr. Orzechowski did not respond to an email sent on Friday seeking specific reasons for the rejection.

During a December phone interview, Ms. Kenny said she was appointed to the position of treasurer in 2009 after having served as deputy treasurer since 2002. She was reelected to three-year terms in 2010 and again last month.

An audit released by the New York State comptroller’s office in early 2011 concluded that Ms. Kenny improperly reserved $310,940 for purchases that were not made during the time frame allocated for in the district’s budget between January 2009 and February 2010. Although some purchases eventually were made, they were done after the end of the fiscal year during which they were intended to be used, according to the audit. That money could have been used to “increase its capital reserves, pay off debt, finance one-time expenses or reduce district property taxes,” according to the state comptroller’s office.

According to a sampling of salary information obtained from itemized fire district budgets and www.seethroughny.net, as well as data available online through the state comptroller’s office, Ms. Kenny is one of the highest-paid treasurers in the region. In fact, the recent records search shows that only Riverhead Fire District Treasurer Robert Zaweski, who collected $68,754 in 2013, is above her on the pay scale—and he oversees a $4.67 million budget, which is nearly double that of Hampton Bays. Unlike Ms. Kenny, he also serves as secretary of his district. All fire districts are required to employ a secretary to handle their records and documents, among other tasks.

Those earning slightly less than Ms. Kenny also serve as secretaries of their respective departments, according to public records. For example, Westhampton Beach Fire District Treasurer Carol Nemeth, who also serves as secretary, made $59,486 in 2013 while overseeing a $1.89 million budget. Additionally, Terri Czeczotka, the treasurer and secretary of the Montauk Fire District, was paid $54,563 in 2012—the last year available in online records—and oversaw a $1.5 million budget.

In contrast, those serving only in the capacity of treasurer earned notably less than Ms. Kenny. For example, in 2012, Amagansett Fire District Treasurer Robert Jensen was paid $15,818 to help oversee a $1.6 million operating budget. And the East Quogue Fire District will pay its treasurer, Nancy Knotoff, $14,100 this year, an increase of $2,400 from 2013, according to a copy of its adopted $1.26 million 2014 budget on file with Southampton Town and published on its website.

East Quogue Fire Commissioner Allyn Jackson explained this week that his district’s duties are distributed in such a way that it is unnecessary to pay its treasurer a full-time salary, although he declined to go into specifics.

“It’s how they have dealt with the amount of work that their district has to get done each year,” he said referring to other districts as a collective. “I’m not going to comment on how they do their business, I’ll just comment on how we do ours. I’m not going to pass judgment on how they do things.”

Some districts, such as the Southampton Fire District, do not pay their treasurers a salary. Instead, they pay an hourly wage, which also eliminates the cost of offering additional benefits. Southampton Fire District Commissioner Roy Wines said this week that he could not recall the exactly hourly rate paid by his outfit, but noted that they employ such a system because they could not justify paying a full-time salary.

“It’s not a fixed a number of hours that they’re working—it’s based on need,” Mr. Wines said. In Southampton’s $1.7 million 2014 budget, $5,500 has been set aside to pay the district’s treasurer, MaryAnn Milton, an hourly wage. The North Sea Fire District, meanwhile, pays its treasurer, Beth Westerhoff, $23 an hour while Secretary Rosane Cassella-Wilson earns $19 an hour, according to Fire Commissioner Ed DiMonda. That district’s 2014 budget is $1.39 million.

Mr. Pinsky, whose firm represents about 30 Long Island fire districts, departments and ambulance companies, and approximately 500 throughout the state, said it’s not unusual to have individuals collecting salaries for multiple positions. But he did note that, in his opinion, it is odd for a treasurer to collect a salary that’s north of $60,000, as is the case in Hampton Bays.

According to www.seethroughny.net, the Hampton Bays Fire District, in 2013, paid $461,678 to 15 different employees, with salaries ranging from $51 to Ms. Kenny’s $61,340; 10 of the 15 employees earned more than $24,000 for the year, according to the same website that compiles salary and pension information on employees throughout the state using “official government sources.” A disclaimer on the homepage, however, notes that it cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the data it provides.

Ms. Kenny was the highest-paid Hampton Bays Fire District employee last year, according to the online data. The next-highest-paid employee of the district last year was John Urevich, who earned $60,493, according to online records. He was followed by Michael Burns at $46,457, Penny Leigh at $44,437, and Michael Tortorice at $43,921. Online records did not provide job descriptions for any of those employees.

Mr. Pinsky, who is representing the Bridgehampton Fire District as legal counsel and financial manager, recently helped that district strip longtime Treasurer Charles Butler of his duties, as well as most of his pay and benefits, in November 2013. Mr. Butler had served as district secretary and treasurer for more than 30 years, earning $30,000 annually for each position, or $60,000 total. The board of commissioners dismissed Mr. Butler from his appointed secretary position and slashed his treasurer salary to $1,500, stating that they were unhappy with the level of transparency and accountability in recent years.

Since taking the helm in Bridgehampton, Mr. Pinsky said he has found several suspicious transactions on the district’s books and, earlier this month, requested that Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota open a criminal investigation into the actions of Mr. Butler.

Mr. Pinsky said his firm provides financial and legal services at a rate of $60,000 a year, which he said saves districts money because they don’t have to provide him benefits or pay a payroll tax for his services. He added that districts are getting his legal representation at a cost of about $20,000 annually, which is included in the $60,000 figure.

“We’re including legal services and all the financial bookkeeping plus tax returns, payroll and comptroller’s reports,” he said. “We’re doing all that for $60,000.”

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VOLUNTEER.....say it again volunteer. Why the hell is anyone being paid in a firehouse? Hampton Bays doesn't have many more houses than it did 30 years ago and they now have 3 firehouses opposed to one. Not to mention millions in equipment thet don't need like a 7 story ladder truck. Between the school district and fire district Hampton Bays residents are being taxed right out of town!
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jan 31, 14 7:17 AM
More municipal bankruptcies being incubated all over.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Jan 31, 14 7:27 AM
3 houses? where? Lived there for years and I know of only 2. As for not anymore than 30 years ago...have you crossed the canal lately????
By squeaky (291), hampton bays on Jan 31, 14 7:57 AM
Some positions in fire districts are paid due to the long hours beyond normal training and maintenance. It is normal is most districts to have a few paid positions to keep the wheels rolling.

Fill us in chief on your volunteer activities in the community. Must be widespread due to your intimate knowledge of every hamlet.
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Jan 31, 14 12:40 PM
1 member liked this comment
Clueless. Totally clueless.
By Draggerman (954), Southampton on Feb 1, 14 8:53 PM
I think he is including the ambulance barn across the tracks from Good Ground Road
By Jaws (245), Amity Island on Feb 2, 14 11:16 PM
Who oversees the Ambulance and how they use the taxpayers money? How much are their employees paid?
By 75Shovel (15), Southampton on Jan 31, 14 7:24 AM
Ambulance or Fire District? They are 2 completely separate things in HB.
By HBGuy (14), Hampton Bays on Jan 31, 14 10:32 AM
I know! But as a Taxpayer I want to know about the Ambulance as well!It's not just the Fire Dept. spending my money! Lets look at the Water District too!
By 75Shovel (15), Southampton on Jan 31, 14 2:54 PM
1 member liked this comment
My ambulance taxes are a fraction of what I pay in fire tax and they are much busier.
By HBGuy (14), Hampton Bays on Feb 1, 14 7:54 AM
1 member liked this comment
Yet another public servant refuses to let us see the books about how OUR tax money is being spent.

Does the FOIA law provide for punitive damages for wrongfully withholding such basic information?
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Jan 31, 14 7:25 AM
You forgot the yellow annex garage on Good ground. Hampton Bays was built up years ago and that fire district spends money like drunken sailors.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jan 31, 14 8:23 AM
Not exactly considered another fire house. But I get what you're saying. They are a great group of people in that dept and the ambulance crew as well. I know a lot of them and feel they deserve all they need to do what they do. The school is another story....
By squeaky (291), hampton bays on Jan 31, 14 10:43 AM
1 member liked this comment
Most ridiculous statement of the year goes to.... CHIEF for this doozy:

"Hampton Bays doesn't have many more houses than it did 30 years ago"

So Chief, you're telling me that there hasn't been a single subdivision done in 30 years in HB? No Land Divisions? No new houses?

If I look at the census data from 30 years ago and compare it to today, the number of people living in HB will be the same huh?

I guess now we can definitively say that "chief" is NOT a fire ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jan 31, 14 9:06 AM
This is what happens when the inmates run the asylum. Look at most taxpayer funded payrolls. Good pay, GREAT benefits, guaranteed raises, guaranteed paid vacations...all at the taxpayers expense. And most of all, no humility...
By The Real World (368), southampton on Jan 31, 14 10:49 AM
From the Town of Southampton website:
"The Board of Ethics has the power and authority to render reports and recommendations to the Town Board for appropriate action regarding conflicts of interest in violation of the Code of Ethics and/or General Municipal Law. The Board of Ethics acts as the repository of completed disclosure forms required to be filed pursuant to Chapter 23 of the Town Code.

The proper administration of government requires town officers and employees, whether elected ...more
By davidf (325), hampton bays on Jan 31, 14 1:16 PM
The SHT Ethics Board has no jurisdiction over this Fire District, which is a separate municipal agency IMO.

By PBR (4956), Southampton on Jan 31, 14 2:09 PM
1 member liked this comment
How come VOLUNTEER FD and Ambulance Districts cost taxpayers ALMOST as much as the SHTPD considering the "stupendous" pay that SHTPD gets? There are a lot of people quick to complain about Cop Pay but when you look at these VOLUNTEER services - shouldn't their yearly costs be lower by several orders of magnitude?
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jan 31, 14 3:03 PM
Are you talking about total annual bottom line costs? 3 million above, and isn't the SHT PD budget around 20 million? [quickly from memory]
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Jan 31, 14 3:23 PM
http://www.southamptontownny.gov/filestorage/72/837/4262/8180/16-TownPolice_%282%29.pdf
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Jan 31, 14 3:24 PM
Sounds like a bitter EX Fire Commissioner that is stirring the pot. Just like he did right around the vote. Must be nice to have an inside person at 27 east to write whatever you ask them to.
By islander6615 (133), hampton bays on Jan 31, 14 3:36 PM
2 members liked this comment
@chief1 Make sure you know the difference between fire departments and fire districts?
By islander6615 (133), hampton bays on Jan 31, 14 3:41 PM
75shovel do you volunteer your services or you just a normal complainer that sits back and does nothing? Must be pro Obama
By islander6615 (133), hampton bays on Jan 31, 14 3:43 PM
I AM a volunteer and a Taxpayer that is concerned about people sucking from the teat of the Taxpaying golden cow? How about you Islander? Did you ever do anything for your community besides throw jabs at people willing to take a stand?
By 75Shovel (15), Southampton on Jan 31, 14 4:14 PM
Also all municipalities and government workers salaries are posted on the internet. Just do some research before you complain. I don't volunteer my services but I'll tell you one thing I sure appreciate every person that does. And if you have enough time to write and complain on here than you have time to volunteer. Get out and do something for people instead of sitting here complaining. 95% of things fire districts and departments and ambulance have are also mandated by the insurance companies. ...more
By islander6615 (133), hampton bays on Jan 31, 14 3:48 PM
1 member liked this comment
Where do we send your application to?
By 75Shovel (15), Southampton on Jan 31, 14 4:17 PM
The ambulance, fire district, water district and school districts also put a lot money into local merchants.
By islander6615 (133), hampton bays on Jan 31, 14 3:54 PM
@nature Southampton town police is funded by the whole town of Southampton. Meanwhile fire districts and ambulances are funded by the individual hamlets.
By islander6615 (133), hampton bays on Jan 31, 14 3:59 PM
1 member liked this comment
I get that... but it still seems incredible to me that volunteers cost almost as much as the "stupdenously overpaid" police. A lot of people gripe about police pay but don't bat an eye at the similar costs for VOLUNTEER services. Makes you wonder no?
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jan 31, 14 4:27 PM
Nature, what annual budgets are you comparing? See my post from earlier with a link for the PD budget ($20 million +/-), as compared to the fire district budget here of 3 million +/-. Where do you get "almost as much" from?

Thanks.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Jan 31, 14 7:51 PM
Take a look at your tax bill. Why are your taxes for the fire district almost as much as your share for the police dept?
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Feb 1, 14 9:44 AM
Don't know, beyond my knowledge base. Have a good weekend.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Feb 1, 14 9:56 AM
I'm not volunteering but I don't sit on here bashing them. Plain and simple why don't you do something if your not happy? Just like they say talk is cheap. It's all public knowledge.
By islander6615 (133), hampton bays on Jan 31, 14 4:35 PM
Police protect us and so do volunteers. Saving lives. You also got to understand that insurance companies mandate what these departments need to have.
By islander6615 (133), hampton bays on Jan 31, 14 4:41 PM
I am a PROUD VOLUNTEER and I feel Ms Kenny deserves Every dollar she receives.
By Etians rd (543), Southampton on Jan 31, 14 6:57 PM
get a scanner and listen to the unbelievable calls these ambulance companies have to deal with every day. small wonder they are still volunteers. "I have a headace, I think I am dizzy, I've fallen and can't get up; etc, etc, etc. the calls are constant and we are very lucky we have these volunteers who handle all these calls with dignoty and respect. CUDOS to all the volunteers.
By xtiego (698), bridgehampton on Jan 31, 14 7:02 PM
sorry spelled dignaty wrong BUT it is one of the primary words in my post!!
By xtiego (698), bridgehampton on Jan 31, 14 7:03 PM
again spelled it wrong SO BE IT but you know meaning.
By xtiego (698), bridgehampton on Jan 31, 14 7:05 PM
Dignity.

Kudos to all volunteers for all services. Well done indeed!
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Jan 31, 14 7:54 PM
1 member liked this comment
Paying someone an adequate salary to pay their bills is a good idea. Perhaps if folks got paid enough for their main job there wouldn't be so many people taking on 2nd jobs. And I do lthink the job of treasurer for the fire dept.on the East End should be a full time job.
The people up state have no idea of the prices out on the East End just to exist.
Besides in about 10 or 15 years you might have to go to paid firefighters. How easy is it to get people to volunteer to join now? Do the ...more
By summertime (589), summerfield fl on Feb 1, 14 7:56 AM
After reading all the comments I know feel Ms Kennels position should be post and let others in the community have a chance to apply as should all paid positions in this Fire District..........I might apply I would LOVE to get by on the salaries they receive. NO More volunteer work for...............I am quitting today from dog walking.NO respect..
By Etians rd (543), Southampton on Feb 1, 14 9:49 AM
as a middle middle income resident I know folks cannot live there on $60,000. a year. My husband and I tried it back in 1989 and we had 2 children to feed and clothe. Do you mean, Etians, that you can live anywhere in the Hamptons for less than that? Tell me where and I'll come back immediately!
By summertime (589), summerfield fl on Feb 2, 14 3:49 PM
My family and I do it for less then $60,000 in Hampton Bays.
By captnrose (6), Hampton Bays on Feb 11, 14 9:03 AM
Sorry for the typos I was soooo excited to express my views forgot to proof read sorry
By Etians rd (543), Southampton on Feb 1, 14 9:50 AM
Sorry for the typos I was soooo excited to express my views forgot to proof read sorry
By Etians rd (543), Southampton on Feb 1, 14 9:51 AM
What a way for the clown pack to twist the story. Sure volinteers do a great job, but that's not the issue. We are talking a ten hour a week job for 50k. Are you kidding me? You could hire an accounting firm to cut checks once a month, and keep the books for 10k a year, and they would be certified! The majority of Hampton Bays was built from the 1920's to the 80's. The homes built from 1990 till now has not been enough to justify what has been spent by the district. By the way how many people were ...more
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Feb 1, 14 9:51 AM
Ten hours a week you know absolutely nothing. Do your homework before making ignorant comments.
By islander6615 (133), hampton bays on Feb 4, 14 5:56 PM
If it takes more than a day a week the person is incompetent. Get a grip and understand it is volunteer, and why should someone get 56k in a volunteer dept while others are volunteering. SHAMEFUL GREED
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Feb 6, 14 6:22 PM
Why don't you do something instead of just rambling on. Talk is cheap.
By islander6615 (133), hampton bays on Feb 10, 14 9:10 AM
In other districts, are the treasurers paid or volunteers?
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Feb 10, 14 5:44 PM
Lucy, you got some splainin to do.
By dnice (2346), Hampton Bays on Feb 1, 14 10:15 AM
1 member liked this comment
As my good friend Al used to say, "Pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered. "
It is time get a new, reasonably compensated treasurer.
By TheTurtle (143), Southampton on Feb 3, 14 2:40 PM
The hiring of the Treasurer has the appearance of self-dealing, the salary also appears much higher than other districts. The same position is advertised in this paper for Manorville-was the HB position also advertised, how was the selection performed? Wonder what the hours and pay are. As far as performance, reference the NYS Comptrollers audit of 2010-"Treasurer improperly reserved $310K; paid 17 claims before they were audited; no purchasing policy; didn't always comply with competitive bidding ...more
By bayarea (46), hampton bays on Feb 4, 14 4:57 PM
Its shameful. We think countries like Mexico and Afghanistan are corrupt but how do you think they got that way? Not advertising job openings then paying your friends and relatives double the rate they should get is stealing from your neighbors. Shame on you.
By davidf (325), hampton bays on Feb 4, 14 10:31 PM
1 member liked this comment
Absolutely a waste and so was the 2nd firehouse... they don't even make it to the fire before the house or building is gone... have another parade
By bigblue84 (89), Hampton Bays on Feb 6, 14 5:45 PM