Politicians confident on timing for raises
Review panel named to make suggestions
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.