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MAYOR REJECTS CRITICISM, OKS PAY HIKES FOR TOP OFFICIALS

Mayor Masiello approved controversial raises boosting top city officials' salaries by 20 to 51 percent after aides concluded he had already taken the political damage for the decision, they said Thursday.

The mayor's signature on a local law granting top elected city officials their first raise in six years capped a three-month controversy that began in late May when Buffalo lawmakers quietly amended the City Charter to smooth the way for the increases.

Hikes ranged from a low of 20 percent for City Comptroller Joel A. Giambra to 51 percent for Common Council President James W. Pitts. Masiello himself will begin collecting $105,000 per year, an increase of 24 percent.

Turning aside criticism from media pundits and nearly 40 citizens who showed up for a public hearing early this week, Masiello accepted the decisions of lawmakers and a nine-member advisory board that set the raises.

In the end, the mayor and his aides were convinced the raises were due and there was no better time to grant them, they said.

"We had already had three months of public criticism. . . . Whether you raise them $100 or $1,000, those who are against (raises) . . . are going to complain," Vincent J. LoVallo, Masiello's chief of staff, said.

A number of speakers at the hearing voiced support for boosting the mayor's salary, but they criticized the 24 percent increases set for city lawmakers, as well as the biggest hike for Pitts, whose salary jumped nearly $27,000.

But according to LoVallo, most officials affected had not received raises since 1992, and their salaries were out of line with the pay for middle-level city employees, including some police and firefighters who earn more than the mayor.

If Masiello had vetoed the measure, LoVallo also contended, it would ultimately go back to the Common Council for the drafting of a new salary ordinance.

"It's the Council's decision to pass the raises. The mayor can't change them. He can only accept or reject them," LoVallo said.

Two lawmakers -- South Council Member Dennis Manley and Lovejoy Council Member Richard Fontana -- and Giambra have announced they are rejecting the raises.

Adding to the controversy was the Council action last May to amend the City Charter and pave the way for immediate pay hikes.

Previously, lawmakers could vote themselves a raise, but it would not take effect until their next term of office.

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