AMHERST, NY - The Amherst Town Board has voted to include salary increases for themselves, and for other elected town officials in next year's budget.
The move has left Town Supervisor surprised...and wondering what his next step may be.
Elected officials in Erie County's largest town, haven't gotten significant raises in 12 years.
However, the current town board majority feels some hefty hikes are in line for what they --and some others elected to serve, are paid.
As is his duty, Town Supervisor Barry Weinstein submitted his proposed salaries for elected officials next year as part of his preliminary 2017 budget on Tuesday night during a regular town board meeting.
As is his custom, they included no raises, accept for a 2% hike for the Town Clerk, which would raise her pay to $66,300 annually.
Late into the meeting, and after most citizens had left according to Weinstein, Board Member Steven Sanders, who also serves as the town’s Deputy Supervisor, proposed an amendment which would provide raises for all town elected officials in 2017.
This would include a 37% raise for town board members, raising their annual salary to $35,000 and a 40% increase for the Supervisor, raising his yearly pay to $105,000.
In addition, the salary of the Town Clerk would increase by 26% to $82,000 while the pay for a Town Justice would jump by 5% to $102,000 and the Highway Superintendent’s pay would rise by 3% to $100,000 including stipends.
"Nobody wants to vote for raises because they think it makes them look bad when they give themselves a raise. I get that,” said Sanders during the meeting. “But by the same token, the result has been that by not having raises for ten or so years… you have the town supervisor falling behind many department heads, you have the town clerk is behind many department heads who have less responsibility."
Weinstein told WGRZ-TV he may not have a choice but to include the salary hikes in his preliminary budget, even though he is opposed to them and voted no on the amended resolution.
“It was passed 3-2,” said Weinstein. “Generally speaking, if there is a town board majority on something – even if I disagree with it, I go along with the town board majority. I think that's the way to go. But I’ve been thinking about it and I'm not sure what I'm going to do about this. "
Weinstein, who calls the concept of elected officials voting for their own raises "unseemly", claims the proposed raises would collectively add $100,000 to the town budget.
Board members voting in favor, note the proposed salary levels were derived by the town comptroller and director of human resources, and claim their workload has increased since the town board was downsized in recent years.
“We as a board have been downsized from 7 members to 5 members, leaving us with more committees to take part in and more responsibilities, “said board member Ramona D. Popowich, who voted in favor of the raises.
Sanders also noted that if the pay hikes for town board members were approved, it would still collectively amount to slightly less than the total amount board members earned before the board was downsized.
Besides Weinstein, the only board member to vote no was Deborah Bruch Bucki, who said she had “serious concerns” about raising her pay, because she supported reducing the salary of town board members when she ran for office.
“When I ran I said I would take a pay cut, so I can’t in good conscience support this,” she said, while also expressing her belief that if pay raises were ever to be considered, they should only be done so on the recommendation of a citizens committee, with a thorough review by citizens being asked for their input.
Bruch Bucki also said if pay raises were ever approved by elected officials, they should only be approved to take effect after the next election.
“It should be for future term of office,” she said. “A salary increase should not immediately benefit those currently serving. We all knew what the pay was when we took the job.”