The Niagara Falls City Council plans to increase the mayor’s salary to $90,000 in 2008 — a move that would make the job one of the highest paid municipal leaders in the region.

The council will vote Monday on a proposal to triple the current $30,000 salary for the office of mayor. Local lawmakers will also vote on a similar measure that would increase the pay for council members from $8,000 to $12,000 next year.

The proposal has already provoked strong opinions from local residents.

“The whole city is broke. Houses are collapsing; porches are collapsing,” said Dave Bieksza, who owns a local mechanic business and other properties.

“And they want to give these guys raises? It’s wrong.”

Under the new proposal, the mayor would make more than the supervisors of Amherst, Orchard Park and Clarence.

The position would also earn a higher salary than the full-time leaders of North Tonawanda and the Town of Niagara combined. The pay rate would fall short of the $105,000 salary earned by Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.

If approved, the pay raise would be the first time the mayor’s salary would increase since a revised city charter took effect in 1988. Many believe it could widen the field of candidates for the mayoral election this year.

“It’s definitely long overdue,” said Councilman Sam Fruscione. “I think it’s going to bring a lot more people to the table, more educated people, people with better qualifications, people with business background.”

Fruscione said he compares the mayor’s pay to the base salary of $120,000 earned by Niagara Falls School District Superintendent Carmen Granto.

Critics of the city’s charter contend that a clause that sets the salary at $30,000 and bars the mayor from holding a job outside of city government has limited potential candidates.

“I know if I was a businessman who had a successful business, I wouldn’t walk away for a $30,000 salary,” Fruscione said.

The proposed salary increases would not take effect until 2008.

Sean Kelly, a Niagara University associate professor of political science, believes the salary for mayor greatly influences who is willing to run. Kelly headed a commission that reviewed the charter under former Mayor Irene Elia and recommended that the mayor be paid 10 percent more than the city’s top department head. If that proposal had passed, the mayor’s salary would be roughly $82,000 today.

“I think it’s a very big factor,” Kelly said of the current $30,000 salary. “For you to make a decision to run, you’ve got to say, ‘I’m going to take a pay cut in order to do this job, which I may not have in four years.’ For a youngish person who’s already got some kind of successful career, it’s really not an option.”

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