A plan that would double the salaries for city council members will not be voted on at the May 8 meeting as originally planned. Not only has the plan drawn fire from Mayor Steven Fulop, who opposes the increase, the plan could not muster enough votes in the city council.
In late April, Council President Rolando Lavarro sent a letter to fellow council members saying he had intended to introduce the ordinance at the May 8 meeting.
But the measure may not be completely dead. Some council members did not object to a raise in pay, but questioned the amount of the raise.
Lavarro apparently withdrew the ordinance when he could not get enough votes to pass it. The ordinance does not appear on the agenda that was posted online on May 3.
Fulop and Lavarro have been at odds for weeks over the proposed pay increases.
If this had been approved as Lavarro wanted, the ordinance would be the first pay increase for council members in almost 30 years and would have take effect Aug. 1.
The city council last approved a raise for council members in 1993, from $15,000 to $22,500 a year with a provision for cost-of-living increases each year.
The council position is considered part time.
The ordinance Lavarro authored noted that this is part of a commitment to “modernizing its employment practices and policies to be better able to attract competent, engaged, and accountable leaders.”
“This, in part, requires competitive, market-based compensation for the city’s legislative leadership,” the ordinance said, alluding in part to recent similar pay increases for council members in Newark.
According to the ordinance, the council president currently earns an annual salary of $39,391, while the other eight council members are paid $35,298 a year. If approved, the ordinance would boost the council president’s salary to $68,354 and boost the salary of other council members to $65,298 a year.
Timing is everything
The proposal comes at a bad time for taxpayers. The city and the school district are both proposing 2-percent tax hikes this year. Jersey City is also expected to see a large hike in county taxes when the budget is introduced on May 15.
Jersey City just underwent a citywide revaluation of property assessments, and the school district faces severe cuts in state aid, with as many as 415 employees threatened with layoffs.
The increase for council members would have each making $20,000 more annually than members of the Hudson County Freeholder Board.
“I think that most residents would agree with the mayor, that giving oneself a 100 percent pay raise is extremely selfish and something we can’t support especially in a time when there are teacher layoffs in schools, tax increases to residents, a reval, and many families struggle day to day,” said a statement from the mayor’s office in response to Lavarro’s move. “This is selfish. All the council people ran for office knowing the salary up front, so their rationale here is flawed. If someone feels the job isn’t what they signed up for they can step aside”
Although Lavarro was not available for comment, he has said in the past that council members put in long hours and must be available for events and emergencies day and night.
Don’t forget the aides
This battle comes after several years of council members seeking pay raises for council aides, noting that the salary is too low to retain aides, especially with the workload.
The council had worked out a deal with Fulop last September to boost salaries for the nine aides from $15,000 to $32,000, still far lower than nearby Newark, which pays its aides from $48,000 to $74,000.
Fulop supported the raises for aides only on the condition that the council support pay hikes for department heads. Some salaries would rise to more than $200,000.
But raises for department heads and aides was put on hold when the State Department of Community Affairs ruled that the ordinance boosting aides’ salaries violated state guidelines.
“My concern is for the aides,” said Councilman Richard Boggiano. “We have no full time aides. Council members put in 50 to 60 hours or more a week, and aides have to pick up a lot of the work we need to have done. If we are to run this city as a professional operation, city council members and their aides should be full time. We have some good people, and they need to be taken care of.”
For updates on this and other stories check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Al Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org