Chenango County Veterans Services Officer Floats Full-time Proposal
Published: July 26th, 2022
By: Shawn Magrath

Chenango County Veterans Services Officer floats full-time proposal Chenango County Veterans Services Officer Joe Coe presents the unveiling of the Purple Heart Memorial in East Park in Norwich during a Memorial Day ceremony earlier this year. The memorial is one accomplishment Coe is touting as he seeks county officials' approval to change his office from a part-time to a full-time position. (Photo by Sarah Genter)

NORWICH – Chenango County’s Veteran Services Officer sat before county officials on Monday to make his case for increasing his position from a part-time to a full-time job.

VSO Joe Coe told the county’s Health and Human Services Committee that his role warrants more hours – and more pay – as he works mostly alone to provide information and help for veterans, family members, and active military members seeking assistance and benefits from the Veterans Administration (VA).

“I started back in April of 2018. I’m certain that Chenango County, the Board of Supervisors, had no idea what this office would have to do and what I have done,” Coe said, noting feats of his office which include establishing the county as a Purple Heart county, multiple veterans recognition efforts, and the creation of a Purple Heart memorial in Norwich. “Here we are, now almost five years into this office, and I think I’ve been pretty successful.”

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Coe’s full-time proposal calls to increase his salary from $20,646 to $43,000, a figure he says is comparable to VSO salaries in surrounding counties. Coe would continue his duties as well as handle administrative roles. The change would take effect after the county adopts a new budget in January.

But county officials clarified on Monday that transitioning a part-time position to full time is more than a simple bump in pay. There’s also the added cost of insurance and fringe benefits that go along with it. Without enough state aid, some of those increased costs would be shouldered by the local tax base.

Committee members questioned Coe’s proposal, some asking if Coe would have enough duties to fill 37.5 hours per week; others wondering if adding a part-time VSO administrator to handle clerical work would be a better deal.

Coe cited an increase in New York State aid that would help offset the added expense of a full-time salary. State funding has increased from $10,000 to $25,000 for the next budget year, and Coe’s salary is reimbursable by 50 percent. What’s more, Coe said he would waive benefits, saving some money in his budget.

“This is something I was hoping wasn’t going to happen when I first proposed this [position] to the county; the budget escalating,” said Health and Human Services Committee member Jim McNeil (Norwich). However, McNeil also noted that the county would receive a greater state reimbursement should there be a salary increase.

“I’m not asking out of the ordinary. I’m asking to be compensated for the position and responsibilities that I have been doing for the last four years,” said Coe. “We have a lot of veterans relocating to Chenango County … If we didn’t have a veterans services officer, where would they go? They have to go to a state veterans services officer, which we used for a number of years and unfortunately we probably lost a lot of benefits in this county because we didn’t have a point of contact.”

Coe pointed out that since 2018, when his office was created, compensation and pension benefits swelled in Chenango County from $215,000 to $261,000. “I have brought in $2,333,781 to this county to those veterans that, if we didn’t have a veterans services officer here, we wouldn’t have received this.”

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Even so, members of the Health and Human Services Committee opposed moving the proposal forward without more information.

“I’m just not comfortable doing that yet,” said Committee Chair Grace Nucero-Alger (Plymouth) who moved, with unanimous support, to table the proposition until next month. “I don’t have the information in front of me. I want to see the numbers and where this money is coming from.”

The Health and Human Services Committee will take up the proposal again in August. If approved, it would move onto the Personnel Committee before going to the county board for final approval.