Another raise of the Village of New Paltz mayor’s salary is being proposed in New Paltz. Deputy Mayor KT Tobin suggested at the April 10 trustee meeting that another $10,000 a year should be budgeted for the position, bringing the total salary to $55,450. Mayor Tim Rogers is running for a second four-year term in the May 7 election but has no challenger.
Reached for comment afterward, Tobin explained via e-mail, “In the current village budget proposal the mayor’s salary is $45,450. New Paltz is an expensive place to live and based on our own affordable housing eligibility thresholds, this salary does not adequately provide given the cost of living here. When we set this salary so low, it makes it so many people in our community could not even consider running and serving as mayor, because they would never be able to make ends meet earning well below what it costs to live here. That means we are systematically excluding potential public servants based on socio-economics.
“We are very fortunate that Tim Rogers is able to take on this role at his current salary. The time and skills and leadership he contributes certainly goes well above and beyond given what might be expected at his current salary. I propose we raise the mayor’s salary by $10,000 — a number I worked with the village’s treasurer to come up with — and if we don’t like what transpires this year, we can revisit this issue in next year’s budget.”
The mayor’s salary has sometimes been contentious over the years. Former Mayor Jason West received criticism for his attempts to get a raise during his first term, but when he returned to the job, his board was willing to give him a boost to $35,000 in the 2012 budget. The next year, however, when West asked for an additional five-digit increase, the board instead knocked it back down to not much more than $20,000, resulting in the mayor suing the village to have his pay reinstated; that case was settled, but Rogers served his first year earning $25,000 before getting a raise to his present pay in 2016.
Tobin’s assertion that the question of mayoral salary could be revisited if trustees “don’t like what transpires this year” could be limited by that history, as well as an opinion issued from the state comptroller’s office. Opinion 2006-5 holds that, based on court rulings, the salaries of elected town officials can only be reduced during a term “only by local law subject to mandatory referendum.” While that opinion does not include village officials, reducing a salary without such a referendum might invite legal challenge again. Conversely, raising an official’s salary during a term of office — and thus not having the conversation immediately prior to the election — remains perfectly legal. Proposing a raise ahead of the vote, as it has been this year, is a less common practice.
Rogers himself understands the sentiment — that an appropriate salary is needed to attract a wider variety of candidates — but he sees such a raise as a “band-aid” rather than a solution. “I agree it’s not a great system, and I’m trying to come up with alternatives,” such as exploring the possibility of jointly hiring a municipal manager for town and village, which would allow the supervisor and mayor positions to be part-time leadership roles. However, “the challenge is that it’s emotionally charged to talk about these things while you’re trying to finalize a budget. It’s a longer-term planning exercise” to explore ways to restructure local government, but Rogers believes it might be possible to do it without it costing taxpayers more.