These days the subject of pay raises for public officials is a tough sell. Most of us feel lucky to have jobs, and want to keep government spending as low as possible.
The topic is back in the news with talk about increasing the salaries of Erie County’s elected officials. It has been 18 years since salaries for those offices have been boosted.
The public should be skeptical of any increases.
In an economy where workers hope to just maintain their salaries while fearing they’ll be slashed, it is hard to stomach giving a few powerful elected officials any more money.
There is some defense of a pay raise. Many lower-level county employees now earn more than their bosses, so some qualified people might shy away from seeking the top job because it would involve a pay cut.
Higher pay might attract a better group of candidates. But it seems unlikely that any modest pay raise would be enough to persuade someone outside of politics to give up what is probably a more-lucrative private-sector job.
However, the topic of pay raises for elected offices is certainly worth public debate, which is why it is good that a nine-member citizens commission has been impaneled to weigh the question. The panel is developing the criteria that will be needed in order to make recommendations to the Legislature by Sept. 30.
A Citizens Salary Review Commission last convened in 2004, although the County Charter calls for a commission to be impaneled every two years. County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz supported formation of a new commission, while declining to say whether he supports raises for elected officials.
Smart move. Other elected officials chose to stay mute on the subject as well. But Republican County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw and County Clerk Christopher L. Jacobs both oppose raises for their offices, saying they knew going in what the jobs paid.
Legislature Minority Leader Betty Jean Grant, D-Buffalo, said she would support a recommendation by the commission to raise the salaries of the county executive, comptroller, clerk and sheriff. Grant reasoned that the chief executives in those departments should earn more than their employees.
The News reported recently that Sheriff Timothy B. Howard, whose annual salary is $79,092, supplemented his income with a part-time job as a contract employee for M&T Bank from mid-January to early July. Several administrators and deputies earn more than the sheriff.
But will a person decide to run for office based on the salary? Should that be the motivation? Of course not. The candidates must want to serve the public, and, unlike the sheriff, consider it full-time employment.
Here’s an idea. Create performance bonuses for elected officials based on actions that promote increased efficiency and cost savings while delivering high-quality service to constituents.
Now that’s a pay boost worth supporting.