NIAGARA FALLS – Mayor Paul A. Dyster has rejected several of the City Council’s changes to his proposed spending plan for next year – but it remains to be seen if he has enough support in the outgoing City Council to the keep the cuts from taking effect.
The mayor last week vetoed 13 of 46 budget changes adopted by the Council on Nov. 26, most notably restoring $35,000 for the salary of City Administrator Donna D. Owens and funding for a now-vacant economic development job.
In total, the mayor’s actions – which also include restoring $3,000 to $5,000 stipends and wage increases to six employees – would put back about $200,000 of the roughly $250,000 trimmed late last month by lawmakers.
However, Council members still have the chance to override Dyster’s vetoes.
Lawmakers will hold a special meeting at 4:30 p.m. Thursday in Council Chambers to act on them. A supermajority of lawmakers – four of five – is needed to override a veto.
If the four members who voted last month to trim Owens’ salary vote the same way this week, there would be enough votes to override the veto and bring Owens’ salary back down to $75,000 from $110,000.
Owens was making that salary until this year, when the Council voted to cut it to $70,000 in this year’s budget.
When asked about the vetoes Monday night, Dyster said he believes it should be the “mayor’s prerogative” to decide who holds the position and how much the person is paid.
Dyster said that the city administrator is the only other policy-making position within his office and that the city’s written job offer to Owens included the $110,000 salary, which was supported by the Council when she started the job in July 2008.
“I don’t ask much of the Council” with regard to support for the executive branch, Dyster said.
The mayor said in his veto message that Owens’ salary is comparable to many principals and assistant principals in the city school district, “whose responsibilities are great but certainly no greater than those of a city administrator.”
The school district has 50 employees making more than $100,000 annually, Dyster said in his veto message.
Owens likely is also one of the few African-American women in the Falls to earn a six-figure salary and benefit package, Dyster said.
“In the context of our society’s efforts to treat both women and minorities more fairly in the workplace,” the mayor wrote, “the symbolic and practical importance of appropriate compensation in this case should not be underestimated.
The mayor also acted to restore about $98,000 in salary and benefits for the post of director of business development, a currently vacant economic development post he believes is “a critical component of the city’s Economic Development Department.”
Job duties include attraction of new businesses, retention of existing businesses and serving as director of the city’s banking arm, which oversees business loans and grants. Funding for the job would come from the city’s share of casino revenue, not from tax dollars.
The budget changes approved by the Council on Nov. 26 did nothing to substantially alter city property tax rates for next year, which would remain at a 0.03 percent increase in the residential rate and a 0.01 percent decrease in the business rate.
Council Chairman Glenn A. Choolokian on Monday night said that he does not plan to changie the way he voted on any of the budget amendments and that he was not approached by the mayor to discuss his votes on the issues.
Councilwoman Kristen M. Grandinetti said she has been approached by Dyster about the budget vetoes, but she said she has not made a decision about what she may vote to override.
Grandinetti was one of four Council members present at the Nov. 26 meeting who voted to trim Owens’ salary. She also voted against cutting the funding for the economic development post.
The mayor’s vetoes would also restore $25,000 for overtime in the Fire Department, $2,000 for overtime in the Department of Code Enforcement and a crew leader/welder job in the central garage with a $45,000 salary, while cutting the $30,000 welding position the Council inserted.