ROSELLE — The mayor and council unanimously approved a hefty salary increase for themselves last week, but it came after more than a decade of keeping the status quo.
Mayor Jamel Holley last week defended the 66 percent increase in salary council approved for themselves, saying it has been ten years since anyone saw a raise and the governing body has been working hard to ensure there was a zero percent property tax increase, something Roselle property owners have been waiting over a decade for themselves.
The increase raised the six council members salaries from $9,112 to $15,000, while the mayor’s salary will increase from $12,000 to $20,000 annually. As for how this increase will affect town coffers, the mayor said it would not cost taxpayers anything.
The council plans on moving money from operating expenses to salary and wages, not tacking the added expense on to the budget.
However, Holley was not concerned about how the increase would be perceived by the general public. He felt a raise was long overdo and council members should be paid for all the hard work they do.
“We have been working very hard every day even though our positions are part-time,” Holley explained, mentioning that regardless what anyone has to say, “this is a full-time job.”
The mayor said he and council members discussed the possibility of a raise at length and after looking at what was accomplished the past year, they all agreed it was warranted.
“We looked at what other governing bodies were making and our increase was not out of line,” Holley said, but agreed
that some towns paid their governing body members considerably less than Roselle, which has a population of 21,000 residents.
For instance, Cranford has 23,500 residents and the four committee members receive just $2,557 annually for their service, while the mayor, which is not an elected position, receives slightly more at $2,818.
Although Mayor Tom Hannen was just elected in November, when reached to ask how much he earns for the job, the governing body member had to admit he just did not know.
“I suppose I should but the truth is I didn’t get into this for how much it pays. I ran because I wanted to help my town and move us forward in a positive way,” he explained.
The city of Linden, with 39,432 people, pays its council members $17,707 a year, with the council president receiving $20,659.
The mayor, an elected position, earns $69,675.
However, a city salary ordinance for 2013 suggests that although council members and the council president’s stipend stay the same this year, the mayor’s salary can go up to a maximum of $89,675.
Interestingly, when Mayor Rich Gerbounka was elected as mayor of Linden, he opted to take half the salary his predecessor earned.
In Rahway, which has a population of 27,396, regular council members are paid $8,043, and the president makes $9,676. The elected mayor is paid $20,300.
Over in Union, which has close to 50,000 residents, the four committee members earn $16,922, while the mayor, or chairman of the township committee, earns $20,372.
On the other hand, Clark, with 14,597 residents, pays its council members $6,000 and their elected mayor $15,000 a year.
Mayor Sal Bonaccorso agreed with Holley, explaining that although most people believe governing body members just attend council meetings, that is a far cry from what it really is like when you are an elected official.
“I am on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s more than a full-time job but when you are mayor, you have to be there to answer those calls,” he said, adding that council members also are very busy serving as liaisons to countless committees, reviewing endless information for meetings and responding to resident issues, questions and complaints.
“You don’t get into this to make money,” the mayor added, pointing out that when a person decides to run for an elected seat, it has nothing to do with money.
Holley concurred, saying “this is never about money.”
However, getting compensated fairly for the time is important, he said, adding that when council members attend functions, it is always out of pocket.
“It’s a salary set for the work we put in,” Holley explained, but noted the governing body has been very progressive in moving the borough forward.
“We put in more hours than many other governing bodies, and in the last year our hard work has paid off,” Holley said, mentioning that he and council managed to get rolling on constructing and paving 38 roads, renovating parts of the downtown streetscape and working on a $10 million flood project that is under construction that will alleviate flooding for 200 homeowners.
In addition, Holley said they launched a workforce employment office that has put people back to work, put more diverse police officers on streets to protect residents and visitors and overhauled the borough’s recycling program.
“And we did it all without increasing taxes,” the mayor added.
Holley felt that any controversy over the salary increase was stirred up by political adversaries, and that was something he really did not want to waste energy on.
“We have more work to accomplish and that just slows things down,” the mayor added.
“That is something we have to deal with in our positions, but we can’t do much about it.”