As published on Monday May 21, 2012
True to personal governing principles, Wallingford Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. extends his well known brand of fiscal conservatism even to himself — for better or for worse. Over the last decade of his 28-year run in office, he has refused any salary raises. Annually, he earns $73,140, less than $1,000 more than his administrative aide, and half of what many fellow municipal administrators make. At a recent budget hearing, a debate centered on whether Dickinson’s wages represented a bargain, or a long-term detriment.
As mayor, Dickinson is no mere figurehead. His complex responsibilities include those of a town manager: overseeing all municipal departments, both in terms of functions and finances. Thus, an income discrepancy is even more manifest when compared with area civic leaders who perform analogous work. Next year, Southington Town Manager Garry Brumback will take in $149,000. Meriden City Manager Lawrence Kendzior is set at $139,027.
In consideration of his manifold duties, Dickinson is unquestionably underpaid. “The bang that we’re getting for our buck should be envied by everyone in the state of Connecticut,” correctly proffered Republican Councilor Robert Parisi (R-J, 5-2). Wallingford’s mayor is more than an under-compensated workforce supervisor, though. He has kept his town on solid budgetary ground, even as recession-era realities necessitate making complicated, taxing monetary decisions. All the more reason to pay him well.
Logic of operating within contemporary economic constraints is essential to Dickinson’s argument in favor of static salary. “In an elected office . . . you become more of a weathervane for what the times require,” he stated, a thought-provoking observation from a seasoned town CEO who leads by example.
One might wonder, however, whether other local municipal officials — many who earn over $100,000 — may feel that their appropriately high salaries radiate a sense of indulgence in comparison. Furthermore, as reasonably suggested by R-J columnist Mike Brodinsky in his May 6 piece, Dickinson’s “unrealistically low” pay could deter potential mayoral-office-seekers from running. Quality candidates might think twice about pursuit of a position where small wages are discordant with extensive responsibilities.
Dickinson certainly has the right to keep his income down should he choose — he sets a benchmark of shared sacrifice in a difficult economic era. But, as also proposed by Brodinsky, town officials must begin contemplating a suitable salary now, because a time will come when the next mayor likely will expect fair compensation. By estimating what a market-level wage would mean for municipal finances — not much in light of the entire budget — leaders can employ Dickinsonian fiscal foresight in preparing properly for Wallingford’s future.