Politi­cians con­fi­dent on tim­ing for raises

Re­view panel named to make sug­ges­tions

The Buffalo News - - PICTURE PAGE - By Dei­dre Wil­liams

City of­fi­cials had been say­ing for months that this will be a tough bud­get sea­son. But that hasn’t stopped them from ap­point­ing a ci­ti­zen com­mis­sion to see if it’s time to give elected city of­fi­cials and School Board mem­bers a pay hike – es­pe­cially since the city is ex­pect­ing a long-awaited casino rev­enue pay­ment.

Mayor By­ron W. Brown, Com­mon Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Dar­ius G. Prid­gen and act­ing Comptroller Vanessa A. Glushef­ski es­tab­lished the Ci­ti­zens Salary Re­view Com­mis­sion this month to re­view elected of­fi­cials’ salaries. The com­mis­sion will re­port by May 1 to the Coun­cil, which must adopt, mod­ify or re­ject the rec­om­men­da­tions by June 15, ac­cord­ing to the City Char­ter.

If raises are ap­proved, they would take ef­fect Jan. 1, 2020, said city spokesman Michael J. DeGe­orge.

The mayor, Coun­cil mem­bers and comptroller have not had a raise since 1998. The $5,000 stipend for the School Board has not in­creased since 1974. The School Board raised the is­sue of a pay hike in 2013, send­ing Brown a let­ter, but noth­ing hap­pened, Board Pres­i­dent Bar­bara Seals Nev­er­gold has said.

The dif­fer­ence now, city of­fi­cials say, is that long-stalled casino rev­enue is com­ing in. Ear­lier this year, an ar­bi­tra­tion panel ruled that the Seneca Na­tion of In­di­ans must re­sume an­nual pay­ments on slot ma­chine rev­enues from its three West­ern New York casi­nos. Buf­falo has lost out on an es­ti­mated $17 mil­lion since the Seneca Na­tion stopped

pay­ing a por­tion of its slot ma­chine prof­its to New York State in 2016, claim­ing the gam­ing com­pact no longer man­dated the pay­ments. City of­fi­cials ex­pect pay­ments to re­sume in mid-to-late April.

“We knew this year it might be a tough bud­get be­cause of a lack of casino funds. What I’m be­ing told, there will be even an in­crease in the casino funds be­cause there were some other slot ma­chines that were added,” Prid­gen said.

“But again, this is only a com­mis­sion to do a re­view at this point, and so I don’t want to jump the gun as if they’re go­ing to come back with a rec­om­men­da­tion of an in­crease,” he added.

“This is the right time to re­view and eval­u­ate” salaries, DeGe­orge said.

Though the City Char­ter man­dates that the salary re­view “shall oc­cur ev­ery two years,” City Hall in­sid­ers could not re­call the last such anal­y­sis. Brown’s cur­rent salary is $105,000, which is more than the comptroller’s $88,412. But it’s about $3,100 less than the $108,108 his com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor brings home. Brown also makes less than the $118,856 his deputy mayor and his park­ing com­mis­sioner take home.

Per the City Char­ter, the mayor, comptroller and Coun­cil pres­i­dent com­prise a board of re­view that can es­tab­lish a salary re­view com­mis­sion. At least two have to agree to con­vene a com­mis­sion; in this case, all three did. As a group, they se­lected the nine ap­pointees to the com­mis­sion.

“Both the mayor and I agreed that there should be a re­view, es­pe­cially when you look at the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion and the stipend and how long that has been a stipend and how im­por­tant ed­u­ca­tion is. But we did, all three, phys­i­cally meet to dis­cuss it; and then we all three signed on,” Prid­gen said.

“I was on the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion years ago, and that stipend is still the same,” Prid­gen said, adding that “you’re talk­ing about 21 years for the Coun­cil.”

“We heard from groups, even around the Coun­cil races, that some peo­ple don’t want to run be­cause of the amount of work that you have to do as a Coun­cil mem­ber and then the pay that comes along with it. So this also ben­e­fits those – if the com­mis­sion comes back with a raise – who may want to run in fu­ture years,” Prid­gen said.

The base salary for Coun­cil mem­bers is $52,000, but mem­bers voted unan­i­mously in June 2016 to in­crease their lead­er­ship and com­mit­tee stipends by $5,000. The Coun­cil pres­i­dent’s stipend in­creased to $15,000, the ma­jor­ity leader’s stipend went up to $10,000, and the stipend for chair­ing a Coun­cil com­mit­tee in­creased to $6,000.

Months later, Coun­cil mem­bers ap­proved a car al­lowance for them­selves. Coun­cil mem­bers who use their cars at least 120 days a year for work – ex­clud­ing driv­ing from their homes to City Hall – qual­ify for a $5,000 an­nual auto stipend.

Sev­eral groups, in­clud­ing the Con­cerned Clergy of West­ern New York, and sev­eral mem­bers of the Buf­falo School Board asked for the salary re­view, Prid­gen said. The Bet­ter To­gether Coali­tion of clergy, com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions and busi­ness mem­bers also is push­ing for a boost in the $5,000 an­nual stipend.

All nine School Board seats are on the May 7 bal­lot. All nine Coun­cil seats, as well as the comptroller’s po­si­tion, will be on the Novem­ber bal­lot.

Any salary in­creases for the mayor, Coun­cil mem­bers and the comptroller would come out of the 2019-20 bud­get that Brown will present to the Coun­cil by May 1.

“I don’t know whether (a raise) is war­ranted. That’s the rea­son for the com­mis­sion. It ex­am­ines,” Prid­gen said. “This isn’t a talk about salary in­creases. This is a talk about whether the salaries are in line with other sim­i­larly based ar­eas, so there will be a lot that the com­mis­sion can look at, but I have no opin­ion of whether there should be a raise or not, and that’s the whole pur­pose for sit­ting that com­mis­sion.”

The nine com­mis­sion mem­bers are:

•Mau­rice Brown, West­ern New York po­lit­i­cal co­or­di­na­tor for 1199 SEIU, a board mem­ber of the Coali­tion of Black Trade Union­ists, the Coali­tion for Eco­nomic Jus­tice and the Buf­falo Peace­mak­ers.

• Brian A. Gould, vice pres­i­dent of e3­com­mu­ni­ca­tions, a mem­ber of the Al­len­town As­so­ci­a­tion board, the Tro­caire Col­lege board, and the Buf­falo Ci­ti­zens Com­mis­sion on Reap­por­tion­ment.

•JoAnn C. Her­nan­dez, op­er­a­tions di­rec­tor at the Belle Cen­ter and mem­ber of Boys & Girls Clubs of Buf­falo board.

•Martha N. Lam­par­elli, spe­cial-ed­u­ca­tion co­or­di­na­tor for the Buf­falo Pub­lic Schools, a mem­ber of the Buf­falo Plan­ning Board and the board of Unyts, the or­gan pro­cure­ment or­ga­ni­za­tion.

•Brian Man­ley, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Imag­ine Staffing Tech­nol­ogy.

•Con­stance M. Moss, a small-busi­ness owner and re­tired as­so­ciate su­per­in­ten­dent and chief in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer for the Buf­falo Pub­lic Schools.

•Sharon D. Ran­dac­chio, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Per­for­mance Man­age­ment Part­ners and a board mem­ber at Kaleida Health and Buf­falo Ni­a­gara Part­ner­ship.

•Arthur Robin­son, pres­i­dent of the Seneca-Bab­cock Block Club and a mem­ber of Buf­falo’s En­vi­ron­men­tal Man­age­ment Com­mis­sion and board of block clubs.

• Stephanie A. Saun­ders, at­tor­ney and prin­ci­pal law clerk to State Supreme Court Jus­tice E. Jeannette Og­den.

The Char­ter also man­dates that the city’s hu­man re­sources com­mis­sioner, cur­rently Gla­dys Hern­don-Hill, be in­cluded as a non­vot­ing mem­ber.

Erie County leg­is­la­tors re­cently went through a sim­i­lar process. Last month, a slim ma­jor­ity of county law­mak­ers ap­proved the Salary Re­view Com­mis­sion’s rec­om­men­da­tions for raises for the county ex­ec­u­tive and three other coun­ty­wide elected po­si­tions.

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