Let’s just cut right to the chase.
There’s no way members of the Schenectady City Council can justify giving the mayor a 16 percent raise.
There’s no way they can justify it financially. There’s no way they can justify it politically. There’s no way they can justify it morally.
Despite positive developments in Schenectady’s finances over the last few years, fueled in part by revenue from the Rivers casino, city taxpayers are still among the highest-taxed residents in the state, and many residents are still struggling to keep roofs over their heads thanks in large part to their high tax burden.
Despite the high taxes, the city still has many needs that must be paid for, including roads and infrastructure, crime, neighborhoods and the overall economy.
Given those needs and its still-challenging financial and tax situation, council members can’t legitimately give the mayor what he wants at the expense of other services.
The mayor says he wants an increase in his pay, from $96,700 to 112,485, because the mayor’s salary hasn’t increased in 12 years, eight of which he has been mayor.
If you break down the 16% he’s seeking over that time, he’s correct that it’s only a small amount per year — about 1.3 percent. That wouldn’t be out of line with traditional cost-of-living raises.
But if the mayor was being underpaid for the past eight years, he should have expressed that more vociferously and worked with the council to build in regular increases over time.
Asking city taxpayers to make up for past years in one large lump sum is unfair and unreasonable.
Politically, it’s bad form for a mayor running unopposed to be seeking a pay raise a month before the election, which he’s guarantee to win. He should have asked for a raise at the beginning of his term or at least when there was a chance he’d have competition for his seat. Now, it just looks like a blatant money grab.
He also demonstrated bad faith to citizens by not mentioning his desire for a pay raise in his budget address to the City Council on Monday.
And he’s being disingenuous by reminding people that he’s given up opportunities to make more money in office, such as by not accepting the fee for performing weddings. No one told him not to accept the fees. Why should taxpayers have to make up the difference for that?
If council members feel the mayor’s salary needs to be increased to attract better candidates or to bring it up to par with what other executives in similar cities are paid, then they should state that in their arguments. If they feel they need to start including cost-of-living increases, they should be prepared to justify that, too.
In the end, the decision should be made based on what taxpayers can afford and what’s reasonable.
Right now, Schenectady taxpayers can’t afford this raise, and it isn’t reasonable.