Mayor Steve Noble is asking city lawmakers to approve a $5,000 pay raise next year as part of a broader proposal to increase the salary of his office by 25 percent by 2023. Noble said the pay hike will bring Kingston in line with similar upstate cities and ensure that the office remains attractive to talented, skilled candidates with municipal experience.
“Both the mayor and the aldermen have not had a change in salary for some time,” said Noble. “I think it’s time to take a look at that.”
The last mayoral pay hike was in 2006 when then-mayor James Sottile won approval for an increase from $60,000 to $75,000. Pay for members of the Common Council — a part-time post — rose from $6,000 to $8,000.
Noble said he wants to take a “conservative” approach by phasing in the pay raise in annual $5,000 increments. The ultimate goal, Noble said, would be a $100,000 annual salary. That would bring Kingston in line with similarly sized Middletown, which recently raised the Mayor’s salary from $75,000 to $95,000.
The idea of raising, or at least examining, pay for city elected officials got the endorsement of City Comptroller John Tuey. In a Sept. 6 memo, Tuey asked the council to approve pay hikes for department managers and other senior officials in line with raises contained in a new Civil Service Employees Association contract. (Management traditionally gets pay raises in accordance with rank-and-file union members even though they are not members of the union). In the same memo, Tuey noted that more than a decade had passed since the last raise for elected officials in Kingston.
“As competitive salaries help recruit and retain talent in all positions, elected officials’ compensation should be reviews periodically,” Tuey wrote.
At least six department heads command higher salaries than the mayor. They include both the fire and police chiefs, the city planner, corporation counsel, the city engineer and the assessor. The city’s director of information technology makes just $3,000 a year less. Department heads also traditionally get the same raises and longevity pay as members of their respective unions; the mayor does not.
Noble said his push for a higher salary also reflected the increasingly complex and hands-on nature of the job.
“In the past we had mayors who were retired, or semi-retired, in the later part of their careers and it was kind of a part-time job,” said Noble. “In the last decade or two the role has really evolved into more of a full-time CEO.”
Time for a city manager?
Noble still needs to convince the Common Council to approve the pay hike plan. One key member, Majority Leader Rennie Scott-Childress (D-Ward 3) expressed skepticism. Scott-Childress has been a Noble ally and typically supports his positions. But, Scott-Childress said, the need for a higher salary to attract and retain well-qualified mayoral candidates might serve as a better argument for abandoning the “strong mayor” system altogether and adopting a “city manager” approach to governance.
Under a city manager structure, the city’s legislative body would hire a professional administrator to take over day-to-day executive functions, including hiring and firing, developing budgets and supervising department heads. The elected mayor, meanwhile, would become a largely ceremonial position with a salary closer to part-time legislators. City managers are typically credentialed professionals with advanced degrees in management, finance or planning. They also typically command higher salaries than elected mayors. In Newburgh, for example, the city manger commands a salary of $145,000. In Beacon, the price tag for professional administration is $130,000.
Scott-Childress said that the higher salary might be warranted in exchange for the services of a municipal affairs expert. “My concern about simply increasing the pay of the mayor is that one day we could end up electing someone who’s rather incompetent as a manager,” said Scott-Childress. “And if we have that high rate of pay we would in essence be paying someone to be a bad manager.”