The mayor of Niagara Falls may be at the top of the city's organizational chart, but he's been at the bottom of the pay scale.
And if the world-famous city is going to have a chance to live up to its potential as a world-class community, that just wasn't going to cut it.
When the mayor's post draws a paltry salary of $30,000 a year, and the City Charter prevents the mayor from holding any other job, it was not necessarily a knock on the current occupant when City Council members worried out loud whether the office would attract the best and the brightest candidates.
Either that, or the office will effectively be limited to the retired or the independently wealthy.
Nor should it necessarily be read as a reward for current Mayor Vince Anello, who won't get the pay boost unless he is re-elected later this year, that the Council voted unanimously Monday to increase the mayor's annual pay to $78,000. If Anello seeks re-election, he'll have to convince the voters that he's worth the extra money -- something that may prove more difficult if the boost encourages more candidates to come forward.
Aside from attracting high-quality candidates, one argument for increasing a chief-executive salary from such a low level is to remove some financial pressure on the mayor -- and any temptation toward questionable financial decisions because of that. Though it wasn't part of the public discussion, it cannot be forgotten that the cloud of a prolonged federal investigation over no-interest loans from a local developer hangs over the mayor and, thus, the city.
The fact that future mayoral rivals may include as many as three of the Council members who voted for the raise may cause some concern among the Niagara Falls electorate. So might the fact that the pay raise package -- which also boosted the salary for the properly part-time job of City Council member from $8,000 to $12,000 a year -- was hatched out of the public eye and sprung on the community with less than a week's notice.
But the amount chosen, a level similar to the city's police and fire chiefs and a step back from the early proposal of $90,000, is certainly more in keeping with the mayor's responsibilities of overseeing an $86 million annual budget and some 540 full-time employees -- most of whom now make more than he does.
Like the rest of the region, Niagara Falls faces a long list of economic and public service challenges. But its name and location also hold great potential for development, through such projects as the Niagara River Greenway and the planned Niagara Experience Center.
To face those challenges and opportunities, Niagara Falls needs strong leadership. And, it just stands to reason, it will get what it pays for.