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With their $5,000 raise barely in hand, Council members are scheming for more

Now they want money for their cars? Buffalo Common Council members are trying to stick up city taxpayers again to pad their bank accounts, but enough is enough.

It’s not that wanting to be compensated for the business use of personal vehicles is so strange. In fact, it’s routine. But Common Council members just finished granting themselves $5,000 increases in stipends for “leadership” positions, on top of their $52,000 salaries.

What is more, the plan floated by Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera would give each member $5,000 a year just by certifying that their vehicle is used for city business at least 120 days. That’s enough to buy a new car every four to five years. Anyone else want that deal?

Rivera’s resolution should be deep-sixed.

Something like this needs to happen before the Council members even think about helping themselves to more taxpayer dollars:

• Members should keep mileage logs for some period – three, six, 12 months – showing mileage, destination and purpose. Then they should document to residents exactly how much they are using their cars for city business.

• If, after that, they continue to believe they should be compensated, they should do it the way just about every other American worker does: by keeping a log and submitting regular reports. They should be paid for actual usage, a per-mile rate, not a flat fee that risks abusing taxpayers. If that’s too much trouble for them, then they don’t need the money so badly.

All of this smacks of a Common Council trying to increase its compensation without having to vote on a raise. The stipend increase, which took effect on July 1, was already significant. With it, stipends for committee chairmanships go to $6,000; the Council president’s stipend is now $15,000, the Council majority leader’s is $10,000 and the Council pro tem’s is $6,000.

If the car allowance is adopted and all members qualify for it – and does anyone think they won’t? – Council members would be paid at least $62,000 annually. That equals a raise of 19 percent.

Here’s the deal: Council members have the power to raise their stipends, but not their base salaries. To do that, they would be have to convene a Salary Review Commission that would research the question and then make its recommendations. Plainly, they don’t want to do that.

It’s so much easier just to increase your stipend or claim a $5,000-a-year car allowance. What was already an obvious money grab by Council members has now become disturbingly transparent. The members who support these money grabs want to pad their bank accounts at taxpayer expense, but lack the patience or nerve to do it honorably, either by proving the need to be compensated for the use of their cars or by moving for a salary increase.

This is a non-starter. The Council should make do with its new stipends and get on with business.

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