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Thursday, April 4, 2013

No pay raise for mayor in Dickinson’s new budget

As published in the Record Journal on Thursday April 4, 2013

Mayor’s aide to earn more in 2013-14 spending plan

By Andrew Ragali
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

WALLINGFORD - Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. will once again forgo a salary increase and some town councilors are concerned his decision could hurt the town in the long run.

In Dickinson’s proposed $147.94 million budget for the next fiscal year, his salary will remain at the figure he’s taken home since at least 2002 — $73,140. Dickinson, a Republican, has yet to confirm whether he will seek re-election this year.

“I think these are bad times,” Dickinson said, adding that if elected officials take raises, it adds to the argument of bargaining units seeking pay increases. “As a general rule, the private sector has had declining raises while the government is increasing wages. That can be troublesome.”

According to the Town Charter, compensation cannot be changed during the term of the incumbent mayor. Since Dickinson’s term ends after this year, the salary for the next term can be set now.

Democratic Town Councilor Jason Zandri, who is running for mayor, pointed out that under Dickinson’s proposed budget, the mayor’s annual salary will be $300 less than that of Joan Stave, the administrative aide to the mayor. Zandri said the information is in a budget proposal booklet that is not yet available to the public.

Dickinson, when asked if Stave would earn more than him in the next year, said “it’s possible.” He doesn’t see the pay difference as a problem.

“She does excellent work for the town,” Dickinson said, joking that Stave bosses him around most of the time anyway so the pay difference is appropriate.

“She’s a very capable person,” he said. “She’d be embarrassed about this. I certainly feel for her, and don’t want her to be the focus” in any budget discussion.

Town Councilor John LeTourneau, a Republican, said he’s baffled by the fact that the mayor’s aide may make more than the mayor.

“That’s embarrassing,” he said.

Letourneau added that Dickinson doesn’t seek a pay increase because “he feels that’s what the job is worth.” He’s not sure that in the future “more money means a better quality person.”

Zandri said that Dickinson, by not taking any pay increase, is “freezing the pay of the position” and making it unattractive to others.

Town Council Vice Chairman Vincent Cervoni, a Republican, said that Stave’s earning more than Dickinson “borders on inappropriate,” but not because Stave doesn’t deserve to earn what she does. He said the mayor needs to earn more so the town can “allow for some succession planning.” Cervoni said that if the mayor ever stepped down, the town needs to be able to “attract someone of similar caliber” with compensation on par with other municipal leaders in the area. As of 2011, Southington Town Manager Garry Brumback was paid $149,000 per year; Meriden City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior was paid $139,000 annually; and Michael Milone, Cheshire’s town manager, earned $131,350 per year.

“I would think it’s absolutely unusual” that the mayor’s aide makes more than the mayor, said Quinnipiac University Professor David Cadden, who has worked in the department for entrepreneurship and strategy for 30 years. Cadden said that the ongoing mindset in business is that pay increases and higher salaries at top positions are necessary.

“You need salaries like that in order to attract the best and the brightest,” he said.

That mindset has not necessarily been proven, Cadden said, but a lower than average salary “might be an impediment” to attract other candidates. As the chief executive of Wallingford, just as in any business, Cadden said “a hierarchy must be maintained atoll costs,” and that Dickinson’s making less than his aide destroys that hierarchy.

When Dickinson leaves office, Cervoni said, the town will have to form a plan to incrementally increase the salary of the chief executive.