SARATOGA SPRINGS — Mayor Meg Kelly is dropping a proposal to raise the annual salaries of the mayor and city council members from $14,500 to $30,000.
“There will be no vote,” Kelly said at a council meeting on Tuesday night, after a majority of council members said they were either opposed or had serious reservations about raising the salaries for the nominally part-time elected positions starting in January, when new elected terms will start.
“I don’t have anyone running against me, so I would be giving myself a raise, that’s the problem with that,” said city Accounts Commissioner John Franck.
Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan and Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco each said they would be opposed, though they agreed with Kelly that the duties of a city commissioner are basically full-time. The current $14,500 salary, which hasn’t changed since 2001, is set on the assumption that city commissioners work part-time. Each has a full-time deputy.
“When I ran, I knew the salary was $14,500,” said Madigan, who has been elected every two years since 2011, and is running for re-election.
“I think every one of us works more than 40 hours per week…It’s a thankless job. But this isn’t the right time to bring it up,” said Scirocco. “I don’t do it for the money. I do it to make a difference.”
At a public hearing, a majority of speakers — some of them known at times to antagonize the council at public meetings — said the salary increase is justified, given the amount of work city commissioners do.
“There is no good time to do this, and this is really quite a modest proposal,” said resident Jane Weihe.
“It’s really not fair that you’ve been stuck at $14,500 since 2001,” said Dr. Chris Mathiesen, a former public safety commissioner. It’s not a part-time position. It’s a 24-hour position.”
Rob Arrigo, chairman of the Saratoga County Libertarian Party, spoke against the raises, noting that in addition to a salary, elected commissioners receive something potentially even more valuable — free health insurance coverage through the city.
Under Saratoga Springs’ unusual form of government, four elected commissioners are the heads of city departments — finance, public safety, public works, and accounts — with the mayor overseeing city planning and performing chief executive duties. Together, the five form the city council for collective decision-making, yet each retains broad autonomy to run their own departments.
Kelly’s proposal, which she began circulating a few weeks ago, was intended to increase the pay to respect the modern responsibilities of the jobs.
“My average week is 50 hours. That’s $5.58 per hour,” said Kelly, noting that pay rate is far below minimum wage. “Among comparable cities (in New York state), Saratoga Springs is the lowest.”
Kelly said a higher salary would encourage more people to run for office, since the current pool of candidates is limited to “retirees, the affluent, and those reliant on their partners for income.”
Other than Franck’s reference to be unopposed in the November election, there was no talk among commissioners of how voting on a raise less than two months before the election might influence voters. The mayor’s office and the other three commissioner seats are all being contested, with Kelly, Madigan, and Scirocco all seeking re-election.
Public Safety Commissioner Peter Martin, who is not running for re-election, was not at Tuesday’s council meeting.