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NFTA Executive Director Alfred H. Savage's salary demands played a major role in the San Francisco-Oakland transit system's decision to hire someone else, officials said Monday.

Arlo Smith, president of Bay Area Rapid Transit, said Savage's asking price was one of the elements considered by the board before it decided to hire Frank Wilson, former operations manager of Philadelphia's Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. A formal vote on Wilson's hiring is expected today.

"Salary wasn't the only determining factor, but it was a factor with some board members," Smith said.

After he was interviewed twice for the job, Savage said he would leave Buffalo if offered a substantial raise over the $120,000 he receives from the NFTA. The last BART general manager, Keith Bernard, was making just less than $100,000 when he resigned.

Savage today said he told BART officials last Friday he was too expensive for them, but insisted he never said he would leave Buffalo for more money.

"I met with them twice, once here and once there," said Savage. "At all times, I informed them I was happy where I was."

Savage said he met with officials from the San Francisco transit agency to see what they were proposing. He described BART's planned major expansion as "very interesting," but said he has no regrets that he was not offered the chance to build it.

"I'm not looking for a job," he said. "I'm very happy here."

Smith said a third candidate, Theodore Weigel, former assistant general manager of Washington's Metro system and now executive director of Chicago's Regional Transportation Authority, also asked for a significant increase in the salary offered by BART.

"All three of the finalists were exceptional," Smith said. "It's just that Mr. Wilson was the preferred choice of most board members."

Smith said a majority of the board, five of its nine members, favored Wilson. Savage and Weigel were each favored by at least one of the remaining four board members, he said.

Michael Healy, a spokesman at BART, also confirmed the role pay played in the decision. "My speculation is that salary was a factor," he said.

Daryl Rasuli, a spokesman at the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, said Monday the authority was unaware of BART's decision but the staff welcomes the news.

"He's a demanding person," Rasuli said, "but we would hate to see him leave and have to start all over again."

Savage came to Buffalo in 1987 after serving as chief general manager of the Toronto Transit Commission.

He was thought to have been attracted to BART because the San Francisco operation is rapidly expanding. BART has $1.6 billion in new construction already funded and another $5 billion in rail extensions proposed for the next decade.

In addition, BART's financial and political situation was described by officials in San Francisco as more appealing than the situation in Buffalo.

Savage has faced a series of disputes in his short time here, most recently a lengthy battle with Erie County over a dedicated source of funding for the NFTA. By contrast, voters in BART's three counties have passed a half-cent sales tax to finance BART's operation and expansion.

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