Waite: Niskayuna should raise the supervisor’s salary

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NISKAYUNA – Less than a decade ago, Glenville Town Supervisor Chris Koetzle was a part-time elected official earning less than $20,000 a year. But when an appointed administrator announced plans to retire in 2013, the Town Board opted to make the supervisor position full time — and increase the salary to more than $80,000.

“People, rightfully so, had questions about it,” Koetzle, a Republican, recalled this week.

More recently?

“I haven’t heard about it in maybe four or five years,” Koetzle said. “It’s not a real issue.”

Andrew Waite - Weighing InChange makes people uncomfortable — especially when that change would result in paying more money to an elected official. Niskayuna Town Supervisor Jaime Puccioni, a Democrat, is discovering this now that she’s brought forward an idea of increasing her own pay by $4,700, from $53,800 to $58,500.

While it’s reasonable to quibble with the timing of this proposal coming just 10 months into Puccioni’s term and at a time when we’re all feeling the pinch of inflation, the raise actually doesn’t go far enough.

I’m not saying Puccioni herself, a relative political neophyte, is deserving of the raise — and in talking with her this week, it’s clear that’s not the thrust of her argument. But being the supervisor of a town the size of Niskayuna is a demanding job, and if governmental bodies at all levels are serious about creating opportunities for younger, less affluent citizens to run for office, we must be willing to compensate leaders accordingly. The Niskayuna supervisor’s salary should eventually come in line with salaries of other town leaders in our area.

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Niskayuna has a population of more than 23,000 and an annual budget of roughly $30 million.

In comparable communities, supervisors make considerably more. In Glenville, which has a population of roughly 30,000 and a budget of approximately $20 million, Koetzle makes about $90,000. In Clifton Park, with a population of approximately 38,000 and a budget of roughly $20 million, Supervisor Phil Barrett is slated to make about $109,000 next year. Similarly sized municipalities that currently pay supervisors less would do well to consider a change, too.

After all, a CEO of a private company dealing with tens of thousands of customers and overseeing budgets of these magnitudes would make much more. If we want to draw talent from the private sector into municipal leadership, we’ve got to increase the incentive.

It’s true that Niskayuna employs more than 100 full-time people who are largely equipped to handle the town’s day-to-day business. But there’s no arguing that the demand on a supervisor’s time is constant.

In Glenville, Koetzle found that, even though the town employed a full-time administrator during his first years in office, residents and department heads wanted to speak directly to him as the top elected official in town.

“[President] Harry Truman had it right so many years ago when he said, ‘the buck stops at one place,’ and, in this case, it’s the supervisor’s office. You have to be accountable and responsible, and there is just too much going on. You have to be fully engaged,” Koetzle said.

He added that a sufficient salary can help attract future candidates — to be sure, Koetzle, who previously worked as an executive in public relations, has held the Glenville office since the pay raise was enacted.

In Glenville, the responsibilities of the appointed administrator position were absorbed into the supervisor’s role when it became full time. Overall, that was actually a cost-saver for the town. Clifton Park made a similar change when it shifted to a full-time supervisor role roughly two decades ago. A well-thought-out restructuring of responsibilities will be necessary if Niskayuna, which already considers its supervisor role full time, significantly increases the position’s salary in the future.

But doing so would be the right move. To be able to focus enough time on Niskayuna business, Puccioni had to cut her salary in half (roughly $83,000 in 2020) and her hours at the University at Albany, where she is an associate professor of literacy, teaching and learning. Reducing her role at UAlbany was a luxury. It also results in a split focus.

The most Herculean among us may feel up to taking on a part-time town board member role in addition to a full-time job. But most people, especially younger working parents, are not able to consider running for a heavily-involved supervisor job that pays barely more than the per capita income in Niskayuna (which sat at just under $50,000 in 2020, according to U.S. Census data). If we continue to rely on a “labor of love” mantra, we’re probably not going to love our future local leaders.

The current local leadership system favors older (possibly retired) candidates and/or candidates who have other sources of income. (It seems worth noting that these candidates would still have just as much of a right to run for a higher-paying supervisor position.) The system presents logistical and financial hurdles that make it extremely difficult for some members of a governing body to seek the highest office on that body. Such a system stops power structures from truly being able to change. I’ve heard younger leaders express grievances about this dynamic in counties across our region, from Fulton to Montgomery to Saratoga to Schenectady.

Nationally, there is a desire for younger leaders. A CBS News/YouGov poll conducted in August found 73% of adults favor age limits for elected officials, with 75% of Republicans and 71% of Democrats agreeing. For what it’s worth, the 117th Congress is one of the oldest in recent history, with an average age at the start of the term at 58.4 years, according to the Library of Congress. Meanwhile, Census data shows the median age of Americans is 38.8.

“We know that the overwhelming number of elected officials in America still skews predominantly older, white and affluent,” said Raquel Jones, director of leadership programs at People for the American Way.

Jones advocates for the need for young leaders and believes increasing salaries can be a boon for the cause.

“Oftentimes, it’s part-time pay, but it really does require a full-time workload, so that really excludes people who are most vulnerable in our communities,” Jones said. “We need people who are closest to the pain to be at the table, because the decisions that are being made at those tables are affecting their lives directly.”

The Niskayuna supervisor’s salary has remained flat for 20 years. What’s being proposed is an 8.7% raise, which is actually just ahead of the rate of inflation. I realize most people haven’t gotten a raise that matches inflation, but it does put the proposal in some kind of perspective. It’s also worth noting the tentative budget wouldn’t raise people’s taxes — though it’s obvious that $4,700 spent on this means $4,700 not spent on something else.

During a recent meeting, a rumor emerged that Puccioni proposed raising her salary to roughly $100,000 this year. While that number was discussed, it was as an eventuality, not an immediate salary increase to be forced upon taxpayers this year, Puccioni said this week. Rather than letting the rumor dangle in a public forum, the supervisor should have clearly stated her intentions.

That was a mistake, and residents who point out Puccioni’s other flaws as a leader are well within their right to do so — from gripes about lawns being dug up to bury Verizon infrastructure to concerns about the hiring of town personnel.

Residents who don’t like Puccioni’s performance, though, can vote her out of office next year.

And if the Town Board eventually makes the supervisor’s salary truly commensurate with the job duties, candidate fields only stand to get bigger and broader, which is exactly why Puccioni supports raising the salary in the first place.

Columnist Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.

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Categories: Andrew Waite, News, News, Opinion, Opinion, Schenectady County, Your Niskayuna

6 Comments

What exactly is this columnist saying. He is saying that she doesn’t really deserve a raise but should get it. He is saying that Puccioni wants a raise so the field will be broaden for other candidates. She is not concerned with other candidates. She is concerned with her salary which counts towards her pension. Spare me the false altruism. He claims if the voters don’t like it they can vote her out. Well why doesn’t she have this as her campaign goal in 2023? If the voters don’t like that goal they can vote her out. Well at least one good thing came out of this column. She does want to make $100,000 plus eventually.

Lastly, the columnist alluded that there is no tax increase in the budget. There is a tax increase. Niskayuna is a bedroom community compared to Clifton Park and Glenville. We are drowning in high taxes. He sees nothing wrong for a politician in the job for only ten months seeking more money during high inflation and economic downturn. She has not even proven herself to be an effective supervisor. Elected officials are supposed to be public servants not draining the taxpayers. This columnist seems as out of touch as Puccioni is in seeking a raise that will eventually be a 50% increase. He also rejects the notion that there are retired people with tons of experience in their 50s who would be very qualified. Is he in favor of age discrimination? Also her hours are 9 AM to 3 PM. Are those hours of a CEO? All her departments heads combined make approximately $ 1 million plus. I don’t know if this columnist lives in Niskayuna. If he doesn’t, maybe he should move here and pay our taxes.

It’s almost as if you didn’t read the article at all and are just pushing your own views. Here’s the Cliff’s Notes: The salary for supervisor has been flat for 20 years. If we expect to attract good leaders, we shouldn’t expect them to take drastic salary cuts or split their focus in order to serve. The supervisor position carries with it a lot of responsibility, accountability, and work, and the person holding that office should be paid accordingly. Other supervisors in neighboring municipalities with smaller budgets make significantly more than the Niskayuna supervisor, and the pay should increase to come in line with that reality.

It’s obvious you have an axe to grind with this particular supervisor, and it shows. Most retired people I know want to relax and enjoy their retirement, not take a demanding job for little pay. But hey, if those people exist, they’re more than welcome to run for the office. That’s the beauty of democracy.

There is no ax to grind! Put it up to the voters in 2023. Have it as a campaign goal-that is democracy instead of ramming through the town board during high inflation and an economic downturn. I call that selfish. Not a public servant. Just my opinion

Sorry, I agree with Whoville. I’ve read your comments here on this subject and there’s much lacking with regard to evidence.
One thing I’d point out is your claim of office hours being 9-3. It’s like complaining about teachers being paid too much for the little time they spend in school, ‘on the job’. In fact the job responsibilities do not end when the teacher teaches their last class of the day, and the town Supervisor’s doesn’t punch out at 3, but remains responsible and engaged with the town nearly 24×7. If the numbers Mr. Waite presents are accurate regarding other Supervisors’ salaries, it sounds appropriate for this Super to seek equity.
(Full disclosure: I’m not nor have ever been a Nisky resident and have no skin in this, but I’m no new-comer to the area either)

The raise justification is nonsense, no rationale person is going to leave a decent, stable job to take on on an elected position that is only guaranteed for two years. Has NIskayuna ever been without two candidates for supervisor? An increase, and especially an increase that the secretive Progressive caucus wants, incentivizes the career politician…certainly not what the Town wants or needs. This raise is about padding the current supervisor’s state pension and pushing her family income towards $300,000. Let the voters decide with a referendum during the next election, it’s too important a decision to let politics decide.

Chuck,

The Gazette editorial board did not agree with the raise. Everyone has right to their opinion. I personally am not in favor of padding a politician’s salary who has only been in the job for 10 months and there have been mistakes during these 10 months. Most residents in Niskayuna have jobs that are time consuming working more than from 9 to 3 and they also take work home. Just my opinion and the opinion of other residents. Not everyone agrees with her raise.

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