It might come as a surprise to some Village of Cayuga Heights residents that their village representatives are now being paid. During budget negotiations last year, it was decided that board members would receive a $3,500 stipend for their work on the board. On April 15, the 2019-2020 village budget was voted on again and the stipend was once again included.
During public comment, several residents of the village shared their concerns with the process of adding the stipend into the budget. While they did not disagree that the board should be paid, they were disappointed in the way that the conversation around the stipend was handled, feeling that it was not publicized well enough.
“When these historic payments were initiated a year ago, there was no notice to the taxpayers,” said village resident and former board member Ronald Bors at the April 15 meeting. “There was no public hearing to solicit comments.”
According to the meeting minutes, at the June 18, 2018 meeting, the board unanimously passed resolution #8247, authorizing village mayor Linda Woodard to “establish the Trustee pay schedule as the first pay period in July and the first pay period in January.” There was no comment from the public about the issue.
The meeting minutes were not put online for several months. Mayor Woodard said this is due to the fact that last year the village moved the clerk/treasurer to just a treasurer position, and the deputy clerk was made the full-time clerk. Even before the transition there was a backlog of minutes that needed to be put on the website, Woodard said, and it simply took a while to get through that backlog to get the minutes up. The long delay in minutes did not go unnoticed and was specifically mentioned by Bors in his comments to the board.
“When this board spends money on sidewalks or road repair, you can afford to tell me after the fact,” he said. “However, when you take my tax dollars in order to put them in your personal wallets, we taxpayers deserve to know in advance.”
Payment to the village board had been brought up before last year, Woodard said. During the budget discussion a year ago, one of the board members decided to find out what other village trustees were being paid. The amounts ranged dramatically and didn’t follow any kind of pattern. It depends on what the village can afford and what the board decides is fair.
“The consensus was that within the last four or five years the board is being asked to do a lot more than it used to be, all of government is,” Woodard said. “There’s just many more issues that need to be researched.”
After looking at the list and debating amongst themselves, the board agreed that $3,500 each sounded like fair compensation for the time and work they were putting into the position. The money for the trustee payments will come from three different places: one-third from the general fund (taxpayer money), one-third from the water fund, and one-third from the sewer fund.
“There was a general consensus among the board that we were all doing a lot and it looked bad that we weren’t paying anybody, that it was almost elitist not to pay people,” Woodard said.
The board was not trying to be secretive about the process, Woodard argues. “Trustee Pay” was indeed an item put on the June 18, 2018, agenda that was available on the website before the meeting. It’s unknown if it was mentioned in the bi-weekly E-blast that the village sends out to residents who have signed up for it on the village website. The delay in the minutes and the meeting recording (which is of poor quality due to the meeting being held in the fire hall while the air conditioning was on) was not intended to be nefarious, she said. When Bors contacted Woodard about the issue recently he expressed that he thought this was a big deal that needed to be more widely publicized.
“‘Maybe it’s a big deal to you, but it’s not a big deal to us,’ type of thing,” Woodard said, but she told Bors that she would publicize the April 15 vote on the budget in the E-blast newsletter. “I’m not quite sure why this particular issue is something that these two particular people are caring about when there’s a whole suite of other things that we don’t publicize any more than we did the stipend.”
The other village resident Woodard is referring to is David Donner, another former board member who spoke at last week’s meeting. During his time on the board, Donner himself proposed that village board members be paid, but his suggestion was rejected.
“Times have changed and having stated my support for paying the Trustees, I now have to point out the regrettable optics of the transition,” Donner told the board. “What should have been a mark of respect for service to the Village and an incentive for recruitment has been buried in paperwork.”
The 2019-2020 budget was approved at the April 15 meeting and the village board’s $3,500 stipend for each member was included again. No other Cayuga Heights village boards receive a stipend and there are currently no plans to change that.
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