Following a sharp dispute over procedure, the Amherst Town Board this week approved 40 percent raises for council members, as well as pay increases for all elected town officials.
In a 3-2 bipartisan vote, the salary for council members will increase to $35,000 from the current $25,500 a year, while the supervisor’s annual salary will rise to $105,000 from $75,000.
Compensation for the highway superintendent will increase $3,000 a year to $100,000 from the current pay rate of $97,000.
Republican Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein and Democrat Deborah Bruch Bucki voted against the pay increases.
Initially, Weinstein had introduced a resolution to increase the salary for the town clerk to $66,300 from $65,000 a year. However, Deputy Supervisor Steven D. Sanders introduced an amendment that would raise the salaries of all elected officials.
“To me, this was the ideal time,” Sanders said in a phone interview. “It’s not an election year.”
Sanders, a Republican, said he was mindful that the public seldom views pay raises for public officials favorably, but he also noted that the action represents only the second time in 26 years that pay raises have been approved for the supervisor and the four council town members.
“I think the problem is that it always does become a political issue and many politicians refuse to give themselves raises because they’re worried that they’re going to have some negative impact. The result is, you go year after year without raises,” Sanders said.
He added that it takes reasonable compensation to get qualified candidates to serve on the Town Board. Both Sanders and Council Member Ramona D. Popowich, a Democrat, also noted that the increases were recommended by the town’s comptroller and human resources director.
“We didn’t make up the numbers,” Popowich said.
She also noted that, with the board shrinking to five members from seven, board members have more committees and are working harder than ever.
Under the previous configuration, the six council members cost the town a total of $150,000 annually. Even with the recently approved raises, the current four-member board will cost $140,000 a year.
Bucki last year campaigned on a platform of reducing council members’ salary by 10 percent and in January introduced a resolution to that effect, but it failed to receive a second. Bucki said that, while she does not begrudge pay raises for elected officials, she was concerned about the process. The board did not adopt a local law.
Bucki also objected to the substantive amendment to the supervisor’s initial resolution, which called for a pay raise only for the clerk’s position.
Town Attorney Stanley J. Sliwa said the Town Board was within its authority to set raises for elected officials, but if it had not established them before the supervisor released his preliminary budget, the raises would have been effective for only a year. Weinstein is scheduled to release a 2017 preliminary budget for the town on Sept. 30.
“They cannot set a salary that is higher than what is in the notice of public hearing on the preliminary budget. So if Dr. Weinstein... suggested a pay increase for just one official - the town clerk — only that position would have been included in his preliminary budget, which is what then would have been voted on,” Sliwa said.
With the new increases expected to be included in Weinstein’s preliminary budget, the public will be allowed to address those increases in public hearings scheduled for Oct. 10 and 19, and on the date of the scheduled adoption of the 2017 budget Nov. 1.