NIAGARA FALLS - Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster has proposed raising the city administrator's annual salary by $10,000 to $85,000, higher than the mayor's own salary of $78,500.
City Administrator Nicholas Melson has been on the job less than six months, but is in line for a 13 percent raise. He is just one member of the administration that may see a raise if the City Council adopts the mayor's proposed $91 million 2017 budget.
Meghan Rossman, who took over Melson's job as executive assistant, would get a new title and a 43 percent raise, going from $40,540 to $58,000 a year as the new special assistant to the mayor.
Already there has been some push back from City Council members, who will discuss these proposals at budget amendment meetings at 5 p.m. on Nov. 7, 9 and 10.
But the councilors will first hear from the public, who will have a chance to comment on the proposed budget at 6 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall, 745 Main St. The public hearing will follow a 5 p.m. council work session. Council's regular meeting was moved from Monday, which is Halloween, to Tuesday.
City Council Chairman Andrew Touma said he'd like to see more spending cuts and doesn't believe the council is very supportive of the proposed raises.
Dyster's other proposed administration raises include:
- Changing the city clerk position from part-time to full-time and increasing the salary from $30,000 to $48,000, a 60 percent increase.
- Increasing the city assessor salary from $65,235 to $71,235, a 9 percent hike, but cutting the assessor's role and the stipend he receives as Wilson assessor.
Rossman would get a new title in addition to her raise, but Dyster said there would be a net savings in the administration office of $15,000 by merging two executive assistant positions into one, serving both the mayor and city administrator. He said they would also be able to cut overtime costs.
Dyster said the salary bumps, and stipends are needed to be competitive with other employers like the Niagara Falls School District and also to reflect the more complicated work people need to perform.
"If you are a $100 million corporation would you want to get the cheapest people you can get? Or would you at least want to be in the ballpark with other organizations that are hiring similar people? I would argue the latter," said Dyster.
Councilman Kenneth Tompkins, who calls himself a fiscal watchdog, said he has serious concerns about the $75,000 in raises and stipends the administration has included in the budget for a small number of employees. He also objected to stipends that are being given on top of salaries.
There's more than $51,000 in proposed raises for four employees and more than $24,000 in continuing stipends, which range from $1,200 to $10,000. Dyster said stipends are paid to employees who are doing work above and beyond their Civil Service job description.
Two of the largest stipends are provided for acting directors, who are performing the duties of a director. Thomas DeSantis would continue to receive a $10,000 stipend as acting director of the Department of Planning and Economic Development and Louis Fontana would continue to receive an $8,000 stipend as acting director of code enforcement.
"We are seeing a lot of stuff we are not liking. How can we justify giving raises in the $10,000 to $18,000 range, for select individuals in the administration," said Tompkins. "The city firefighters and United Steelworkers have not had a contract or raise since 2013, but if you are part of the administration you get a nice chunk of change."
The preliminary $91 million budget is a 2.4 percent increase over the current $88.8 million budget. The mayor's budget includes no layoffs and reduces the amount of casino money used to balance the budget by $1.5 million. The budget cuts taxes for homeowners by five percent, while increasing the “non-homestead” tax businesses pay by nearly six percent.
Touma said the mayor followed council's direction to wean the city off of casino funds, but did cut any expenses.
"He supplemented (casino funds) with surplus. Our intention was to finds way to make up those dollars through cuts," said Touma. "We are absolutely going to try and cut deeper (at the November budget amendment meetings)."