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Amherst Town Board members should give up outrageous plan for 40% pay increase

Some Amherst Town Board members must be feeling a little richer after deciding to give themselves an astounding 40 percent raise. Fortunately for taxpayers, their poor decision does not signal the end of the discussion.

In case town residents missed it, board members, in a 3-2 bipartisan vote, determined that they are grossly underpaid and voted to boost salaries from the current $25,500 a year to $35,000. The supervisor’s salary will increase to $105,000 from $75,000. The highway superintendent will see a salary increase of $3,000 a year to $100,000.

Republican Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein and Democrat Deborah Bruch Bucki voted against the pay increases.

Few, with the exception of pharmaceutical industry CEOs, receive such generous percentage increases. Amherst residents should be outraged. What makes it worse is how the increases came about.

Weinstein had introduced a resolution to increase the salary for the town clerk to $66,300 from $65,000 a year. He set forth a reasonable series of 2 percent increases to bring the position up to where he thought it should be.

Deputy Supervisor Steven D. Sanders saw an opportunity and introduced an amendment that would raise the salaries of all elected officials. And not by the 2 percent the clerk would have gotten; he decided 40 percent was a reasonable figure. Then he had the audacity – although give him credit for being honest – to say: “To me, this was the ideal time. It’s not an election year.” Really?

Republican Sanders followed up by indicating that he understands the public is not inclined to favor pay raises for public officials, but that this is only the second time in 26 years that pay raises have been approved for the supervisor and the four council members.

Moreover, he says the compensation needs to be reasonable in order to attract qualified candidates to serve on the Town Board. He and Council Member Ramona D. Popowich, a Democrat, also said that the increases were recommended by the town’s comptroller and human resources director. And Popowich noted that since downsizing from seven to five board members, they are working harder.

The point both are missing – or flatly ignoring – is the one made by Bucki. Last last year she campaigned on a platform of reducing council members’ salary by 10 percent, although her January resolution to that effect failed to receive a second.

But that at least was the proper process on salaries: the board considered a local law on the matter. The 40 percent pay hike was slipped through on the back of Weinstein’s more reasonable and justifiable attempt to increase the salary of just one elected official.

If board members want to increase the salaries for positions that haven’t increased in more than a couple of decades, then do it incrementally, as Weinstein attempted for the town clerk’s position. They shouldn’t try to sneak it past in an off-election year, and then boast about it.

Weinstein will release his preliminary town budget Sept. 30. Public hearings will be held in October, with adoption due Nov. 1. Those several weeks will be significant. Taxpayers should make their voices heard.

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