Despite criticism from the audience, the Common Council gave itself a 23 percent pay raise over two years Wednesday, along with a series of four 5 percent raises for City Treasurer Michael E. White.
The only member of the Council who has an opponent in this fall's election, Alderwoman Phyllis J. Green, joined the unanimous vote for the raises.
"We as Council members have not had a raise since 1999. It's been a long time. In order to get good people to run, sometimes you need an incentive," said Green, a Republican who is moving from her longtime 2nd Ward stomping ground to run this year in the 1st Ward. "It would be easy to say no, but would I believe in that no? No."
The Council's pay will rise from the current $6,500 to $7,250 in 2008 and $8,000 in 2009. The Council president will continue to earn $500 a year more than his colleagues: $7,750 next year and $8,500 in 2009.
"[The raise] works out to $14.42 a week," said Alderman Patrick W. Schrader, D-4th Ward, brandishing a calculator.
Audience members Diane Phelps of Outwater Drive and Karen Carroll of Park Lane Circle said the Council shouldn't give itself raises while contracts with the city's unions are pending. Talks haven't begun yet on the union contracts, which expire at the end of the year.
"Why don't we set an example? Take a pay cut," Phelps urged.
Carroll pointed out that hundreds of workers at Delphi's Lockport plant are about to be saddled with 50 percent pay cuts as a result of the company's bankruptcy reorganization plan. "This is not the time to do this," she told the aldermen.
If the Council was going to raise its salaries, it had to do it Wednesday or wait two more years. The City Charter requires all votes for raises for elected officials to be conducted in July of city election years.
Alderman Thomas F. Grzebinski II, R-1st Ward, the only incumbent not running for re-election, said the raise was justified. "The work itself is a lot more than the compensation is," said Grzebinski, one of only two aldermen who is also holding down a day job. The other four are retirees.
Mayor Michael W. Tucker told the Council last week not to raise his pay of $43,800.
Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said councilmen in Niagara Falls and North Tonawanda also earn $8,000 a year, with the North Tonawanda Council president at $8,500. Town of Lockport councilmen are paid $8,755.
White, who joined the city last year after serving as deputy county treasurer, also is unopposed for re-election. His pay of $56,320 will rise to $59,136 next year, $62,093 in 2009, $65,197 in 2010 and $68,457 in 2011.
That's thousands more than he would be earning if he had stayed with the county, given the county's current practice of granting raises in the 2 percent to 2.5 percent range. He was to have earned $52,070 with the county in 2006.
"We solicited Mike White away from the county. He never approached us," said Ottaviano, who added he promised White he would work to raise his pay if he won the 2006 election for an unexpired term, which he did. Ottaviano said the mayor and Council were not bound by that, however.