Waite: Niskayuna should raise supervisor’s salary

Less than a decade ago, Glenville City Supervisor Chris Koetzle was a part-time elected official earning less than $20,000 a year. But when an appointed administrator announced plans to retire in 2013, the city council opted to make the supervisor’s position full-time — and raise the salary to over $80,000.

“People, understandably, were wondering about that,” Koetzle, a Republican, recalled this week.

More recently?

“I haven’t heard of it in maybe four or five years,” Koetzle said. “It’s not a real problem.”

Change makes people uncomfortable, especially when that change would result in more money being paid to an elected official. Niskayuna Town Supervisor Jaime Puccioni, a Democrat, finds out about this now that she has floated the idea of ​​raising her own salary by $4,700, from $53,800 to $58,500.

While it’s reasonable to quibble about when this proposal comes just 10 months into Puccioni’s tenure and at a time when we’re all feeling the pinch of inflation, the increase doesn’t go far enough. .

I’m not saying that Puccioni herself, a relative political neophyte, deserves a raise — and chatting with her this week, it’s clear that’s not the gist of her argument. But being the overseer of a city the size of Niskayuna is a demanding job, and if government bodies at all levels are serious about creating opportunities for younger and less well-off citizens to run for office, we must be prepared. to remunerate the directors accordingly. The Niskayuna supervisor’s salary should eventually align with the salaries of other municipal leaders in our region.

Niskayuna has a population of over 23,000 and an annual budget of approximately $30 million.

In comparable communities, supervisors earn significantly more. In Glenville, which has a population of around 30,000 and a budget of around $20 million, Koetzle earns around $90,000. In Clifton Park, with a population of around 38,000 and a budget of around $20 million, supervisor Phil Barrett is expected to earn around $109,000 next year. Municipalities of a similar size that currently pay supervisors less would do well to also consider a switch.

After all, a CEO of a private company dealing with tens of thousands of clients and overseeing budgets of this magnitude would earn a lot more. If we want to attract talent from the private sector to municipal management, we must increase the incentive.

It is true that Niskayuna employs over 100 full-time people who are largely equipped to handle the day-to-day affairs of the town. But there is no denying that the demand for a supervisor’s time is constant.

In Glenville, Koetzle found that although the city employed a full-time administrator during its first years in office, residents and department heads wanted to speak to him directly as the city’s elected principal.

“[President] Harry Truman was right so many years ago when he said, “The responsibility stops in one place,” and, in this case, that is the supervisor’s office. You have to be accountable and responsible, and there’s just too much going on. You have to be fully engaged,” Koetzle said.

He added that a decent salary can help attract future applicants — of course, Koetzle, who previously worked as a public relations executive, has held the Glenville job since the pay raise passed.

At Glenville, the responsibilities of the appointed director position were absorbed into the supervisory role when it became full-time. All in all, it was actually a cost saving for the city. Clifton Park made a similar change when he moved into a full-time supervisory role about two decades ago. A well-considered restructuring of responsibilities will be necessary if Niskayuna, who is already considering his role as a full-time supervisor, significantly increases the salary of the position in the future.

But it would be the right decision. To be able to devote enough time to Niskayuna business, Puccioni had to halve her salary (about $83,000 in 2020) and her hours at the University of Albany, where she is an associate professor of literacy, teaching and learning. Reducing his role at UAlbany was a luxury. This also results in a split focus.

The more herculean among us may feel ready to take on a role as a part-time city council member in addition to a full-time job. But most people, especially young working parents, are unable to contemplate running for a highly involved supervisory position that pays little more than the per capita income in Niskayuna (which stood at just under $50,000 in 2020, according to US Census data). If we continue to rely on the “labor of love” mantra, we are probably not going to like our future local leaders.

The current local leadership system favors older candidates (possibly retired) and/or candidates who have other sources of income. (Interestingly, these candidates would have just as much right to run for a higher-paying supervisor position.) The system presents logistical and financial barriers that make it extremely difficult for some members of a governing body to seek the la highest function of this organ. Such a system prevents power structures from being able to really change. I’ve heard young leaders grieving about this dynamic in counties across our region, from Fulton to Montgomery, from Saratoga to Schenectady.

Nationally, there is a desire for young leaders. A CBS News/YouGov poll in August found that 73% of adults support age limits for elected officials, with 75% of Republicans and 71% of Democrats agreeing. For what it’s worth, the 117th Congress is one of the oldest in recent history, with an average age at the start of a term of 58.4, according to the Library of Congress. Meanwhile, census data shows the median age of Americans is 38.8.

“We know that the overwhelming number of elected officials in America are still overwhelmingly older, white and affluent,” said Raquel Jones, director of leadership programs at People for the American Way.

Jones advocates for the need for young leaders and thinks the salary increase can be a boon to the cause.

“A lot of times it’s part-time pay, but it really requires a full-time workload, which really excludes the most vulnerable people in our communities,” Jones said. “We need the people closest to the pain at the table because the decisions that are made at those tables directly affect their lives.”

Niskayuna’s supervisor’s salary has remained stable for 20 years. What is being proposed is an 8.7% increase, which is actually just ahead of the rate of inflation. I realize most people didn’t get an inflationary raise, but that puts the proposal in some kind of perspective. It’s also worth noting that the draft budget wouldn’t raise people’s taxes — although obviously $4,700 spent on that means $4,700 not spent on something else.

During a recent meeting, a rumor emerged that Puccioni had offered to raise his salary to around $100,000 this year. While that number was discussed, it was a contingency, not an immediate pay rise to be imposed on taxpayers this year, Puccioni said this week. Rather than allowing the rumor to float in a public forum, the supervisor should have clearly stated her intentions.

It was a mistake, and locals pointing out Puccioni’s other flaws as a leader are well within their rights to do so — from complaints about lawns being dug to bury Verizon’s infrastructure to concerns about hiring city ​​staff.

However, residents who don’t like Puccioni’s performance can fire her next year.

And if the city council ends up making the supervisor’s salary truly commensurate with the duties of the position, the fields for candidacy will only widen and widen, which is exactly why Puccioni is supporting the salary increase in the first place.

Columnist Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.

More from The Daily Gazette:

Categories: Andrew Waite, News, News, Opinion, Opinion, Your Niskayuna

Leave a Reply