Niagara Gazette — Recent negative campaign mailers attacking Councilman Charles Walker — one paid for by the Republican State Committee and one by the allied Niagara County Independence Party — contain the allegation that he supports $1.1 million in “raises” for either “key mayoral staffers” (that’s the Republican mailer) or “the top political cronies in city hall” (that’s the Independence Party version). As you probably assumed when you received these mailers, that isn’t true. It’s a lie.
Nevertheless, I was curious to try to figure out where these spin-masters came up with the number “$1.1 million.” So I did a little research. Here’s what I found.
The bi-weekly line for wages in the proposed 2014 budget is indeed up over 2013. Where does that come from? First, about $294,000 is for contractual longevity and step increases. These are non-discretionary increases contained in the various union contracts that were voted on by City Council and that, in the case of the public safety unions, may have been the result of a binding arbitration decision.
Second, $168,839 is to restore two positions that were cut from the 2013 budget — a budget done under duress because of the lack of casino revenues. The first position is that of city purchasing agent. When our long-time purchasing agent retired, we tried to do without for a year as an economy measure. The rest of the staff labored hard, but the experiment didn’t work. So we need to fill the position for 2014. The second position is that of senior business development director — the person who reviews applications for economic development grants and loans. This position, too, has been vacant since a retirement. Guess what? It’s paid with casino revenues; it doesn’t even impact taxes.
Then $63,301 is to restore cuts that were made in the salaries of two key positions during the casino impasse: the city administrator and the city engineer. The city administrator’s salary was negotiated after she was selected by a neutral panel following a national search. She’s nowhere near the highest paid city employee, and most school principals and many administrators at the Board of Education get paid as much or more.