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Council, in big leap, ups Falls mayor pay '08 figure is $78,000; council raises due, too

The next mayor of Niagara Falls will get an annual $78,000 salary, a gigantic leap from the current $30,000 base pay set in 1988.

The City Council unanimously approved the move Monday to take effect in 2008, as well as approving another measure to increase the City Council member salary to $12,000 from $8,000, a pay hike that will begin with new Council terms in 2008 and 2010.

"I believe that we can hopefully attract some qualified people to be mayor," Councilman Chris A. Robins said before voting in favor of the pay raises. "I'm a 35-year-old person, and I could not right now quit my job and run for mayor but would like it open to my friends that are accountants and lawyers."

The City Charter does not allow the mayor to hold another job, and lawmakers say they're hoping the pay increase will encourage younger, more educated residents to become candidates in this year's election. Two of five City Council seats also are up for election in November.

Most residents who spoke at Monday's Council meeting were in favor of the salary increases, although some said they would have liked to see more time for public input.

Jeffrey Paterson, who is an appointee on several city commissions, said the mayor's current salary is "absurd."

"It's not enough," he said, "$30,000 is not enough for the chief executive of our city."

Paterson served on a City Charter revision commission in the late 1990s and said the Council should consider amending the document to create a base salary with automatic increases or have some other set formula so that the decision isn't political.

"You shouldn't have to be retired with a pension to run for office," said Paterson, who made clear he is not interested in running for any office. "In my view, it's about good governance. Remove the salaries from the Charter, then raise them."

Gary DiLaura, a LaSalle neighborhood resident, said he hopes the new salary will attract more young candidates with Albany connections to run for public service.

Niagara Falls Mayor Vince Anello, who has not announced whether he will run for re-election, called the amount "gracious," although he said such an important decision should have had more opportunity for public discourse.

Former Council member Frank Soda was very critical of the way the Council handled the decision to give raises.

"This was ill-formulated, ill-thought-out and ill-conceived," said Soda, who also served on a former City Charter Review Commission. "If you want to do it correctly you'll put it on the referendum and let the public decide."

Soda said that because three Council members are considering a run for the office of mayor this November -- Chairman Robert Anderson Jr. and Councilmen Lewis Rotella and Charles Walker -- the pay raise was "intellectually dishonest."

"Our Founding Fathers intended elected office to be public service, not public profit," he said. "I think this will attract candidates who want a career in public office."

The Council's decision to adjust the mayoral salary was made public last week when Robins included a resolution on the agenda, released Wednesday afternoon, to raise the mayor's salary to $90,000.

He said then that he expected the lawmakers to debate among themselves and possibly change that number. Monday, just before the vote, he amended the resolution to $78,000, which is around the annual salaries of the city's two highest paid employees, the fire and police chiefs.

The mayors in North Tonawanda and the City of Lockport are paid $50,000 and $43,800, respectively. Both of their secretaries make more than current Niagara Falls mayor. Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown is paid $105,000, a salary set with input from a citizens advisory committee.

Before voting on the measure, Walker said that he hasn't decided whether he will run for mayor but that the new salary "wouldn't have anything to do with it."

In a small speech that sounded like early campaign talk, Walker told the crowd at City Hall: "Voters have to sit down and really figure out if this person [they vote for] . . . understands government, really cares about the city and doesn't have a hidden agenda."

Walker and several other Council members said they would like to revisit the work that former charter review commissions have completed and propose more changes within the next three months. Walker, Rotella, Anderson and Anello all voiced seriously for the first time in several years that they are in favor of changing the city's form of government by putting the mayor back on the City Council, a move that would require a public referendum.

Falls city administrator resigns. Page B3


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