Routine budget talks in the Village of New Paltz quickly devolved into a heated conversation on April 17, when discussion turned to a potential $13,000 raise for the mayor. Mayor Jason West had proposed to raise the mayor’s salary to $48,000 a year, up from $35,000. Trustees instead voted to roll back their own raises — as well as docking West’s pay by $12,500.
The measure will make the mayor’s position part-time in the next fiscal year, bringing the salary to $22,500. The deputy mayor salary is down from $8,200 to $7,365. Individual trustees are down from $7,200 to $6,232.
Trustees said they voted to roll back the raise because West’s one year as a full-time mayor had failed to convince them anything more than a part-time mayor was needed.
“The job we increased to full-time with the understanding that the mayor would be full-time — and that the leadership and the job would be done,” Trustee Sally Rhoads said. “I’m sorry to say I don’t think it has been. That troubles me.”
Brian Kimbiz, her board colleague, agreed. “I don’t think anyone here — on the subject of your performance — gave you an unfair opportunity,” the village trustee said.
Behind the scenes at Village Hall this year, the mayor has ruffled feathers, burned bridges and turned allies into enemies. In January, Sally Rhoads — West’s former deputy mayor — stepped down as the second-in-command to rejoin the rank-and-file trustees because she couldn’t tolerate West. Ariana Basco ran for the board as a political ally and partner to West. That relationship has also soured since 2011.
Basco said she didn’t think anyone should be on the Village Board in pursuit of money.
“I don’t do this for the money. I do this for the public service,” she said. “It’s not my sole source of income — but it’s not meant to be.”
West said there would be “an enormous amount of work that’s going to slam to a halt, because I’m only working 20 hours a week now.” He added, “I think it’s a huge mistake.”
Village trustees said they felt West had displayed a harsh attitude toward them all year. They also said he’d been slow to respond to concerns from the public, often leaving his voicemail inbox full.
“There’s been a serious lack of follow through,” Basco said.
The mayor denied that he infrequently checked his messages or that he remained incommunicado when people were looking for him.
“If you think back and look back at the meetings we’ve had, the sheer variety and scale of ignorance with which this board understands how this village works is just staggering,” West said. “I think the problem is not that I have not been working full time — because I know I have. I know the hours I put in every week.
“I know the arguments I’ve had with each and every one of you about the basic functions of government, about who is doing what work. I know that none of you understand what the job of mayor entails.”