The Princeton Council voted to introduce an amended budget last night that includes funding for pay increases for the mayor and council.
The proposed budget increases the total allotment for salaries for elected officials (six council members and the mayor) from $60,000 to $79,750. The increase would still need to be approved formally as part of a salary ordinance later this year.
Administrator Bob Bruschi said the salary increases were suggested by the staff, and that he sees the salary as a stipend to offset the money elected officials spend in the course of fulfilling their responsibilities as public officials.
Councilman Patrick Simon opposed the move and introduced a motion to amend the budget to eliminate the funding for the pay increases. The motion failed by a vote of 2-4. Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller was the other governing body member who opposed budgeting for the raises.
“We cut positions for consolidation and a few people had their pay reduced,” Simon said. “Over the next two or three years we are going to have difficult discussions about staffing levels, raises and whether or not to encourage retirements. I think this year is the wrong time to implement raises for elected officials.”
Simon and Crumiller said they knew what the Council salary would be when they ran for office, based on the recommendations of the consolidation commission. The commission recommended that council members be paid $7,500 a year, which was the old Princeton Borough rate. Princeton Township Committee members were paid $10,000 a year.
“I campaigned for consolidation, and that promise included a reduction in number of elected officials and a reduction in the cost of our salaries,” Simon said.
Mayor Liz Lempert said the governing body is not obligated to follow the consolidation commission’s recommendations on an issue if the governing body thinks the commission made a mistake.
Liverman said municipal employees did not have their pay reduce because of consolidation, and therefore he and Councilman Bernie Miller would be the only ones required to face pay reductions if the salaries for elected officials are not increased. He and other officials argued reducing the salary would create a barrier for people who want to run for elected office but can’t afford to.
“Maybe all the members up here do not need the stipend, but there are other people who may need the stipend to take this position,” he said. “I’m 100 percent for it. It is not a gigantic increase. When I’m gone and someone else steps in my shoes, they should not be financially penalized for serving this town.”
Councilwoman Heather Howard said if the town is serious about diversity, the salaries should be increased. She said she feared the governing body would only be for “people of independent means” if the salary is too low. The salary could, for example, help an official pay for childcare while the official is at meetings, she said.
“I find this whole exercise pretty damn frustrating,” Councilman Bernie Miller said. “Everyone up here supported consolidation with the understanding of what the recommendation of the commission was, but I think that by doing that, we reduce the possibility of individuals who are outside of our income bracket looking at the possibility of public service. I didn’t campaign on a specific salary for council officials or the mayor.”
Crumiller said she supports diversity, but she questioned whether the additional $2,500 a year would affect someone’s decision to run for office.
“I don’t think this amount of money is going to change things,” she said. “What would change things is if this were an actual part-time job with a salary that is enough to consider it a source of income to displace another job. Right now it is hard to hold a full-time job and do this work. The increase we are proposing is not going to change that equation. I don’t think the people running do this for money. It is basically a volunteer job.”
Councilwoman Jo Butler said serving on Council is “a money loser” given all the resources officials invest in the job, including supplies, technology, time off of work, and attending town and non-profit functions. While she voted against eliminating the funding, she said she is undecided about how she will vote on the salary ordinance when it comes before the Council.
“While we are working like dogs and it is not a lot of money, the optics are bad,” she said. “It is hard to support this now. I would support it down the road.”