JOHNSTOWN – Ahead of the December 1 deadline spelled out in the city charter, Johnstown’s Common Council passed a 2022 budget last week that includes a planned raise for the city attorney but a smaller-than-proposed raise for the city clerk. The mayor’s position will also get a last-minute raise of nearly $7,000. Meanwhile, the city’s Water Board has solidified its decision to hire a full-time superintendent, rejecting the Common Council’s counteroffer to have two city employees split the duties of the role for less than half the cost.
The city attorney, Michael Poulin, will make $60,000 in 2022, up from $41,600 in 2021.
Mayor Vernon Jackson said the raise was justified.
“He’s deserving of a raise because he is a good attorney and he does a lot for the city,” Jackson said.
The clerk, Carrie Allen, will make $53,586, a 5% jump up from $51,034 in 2021 after the city’s tentative budget had called for a $66,324 salary. Allen will also receive a $20,000 stipend, as called for in the tentative budget, for taking on the job of the secretary to the attorney, a role that was vacant in 2020 and 2021.
Meanwhile, the mayor’s salary has increased from $18,241 last year to $25,000 after the city’s tentative budget called for virtually no increase. Jackson is retiring at the end of the year with Amy Praught set to take office.
Jackson said the increase to the mayor’s salary was the council’s decision.
“That was their call, not mine,” Jackson said.
Ward 1 Councilman Bradley Hayner said he approved of the raise because it possibly paves the way for eventually making the mayoral position one that is capable of supporting a family. He said people might be interested in the job right now, but they can’t leave a full-time job for an $18,000 position.
“It’s going to expand the pool of people who can run for mayor,” Hayner said of the raise. “It’s considered to be part-time. It’s not part-time. There is a lot going on.”
Ward 4 Councilman Max Spritzer said the clerk’s actual raise sits better with him than the larger raise that had been listed in the tentative budget.
“I think it’s a fair raise,” he said. “It’s a fair raise in today’s world and comparable to what other nonunion city employees are getting.”
Most other nonunion employees received 2.5% pay increases, although slight amendments are still possible at the December 2021 Common Council meeting, according to Councilman-at-Large Craig Talarico.
Talarico called the clerk’s raise “fair,” noting that the clerk completes records management and has other responsibilities.
“There are a lot of different hats she wears,” Talarico said. “I thought that was fair.”
Members of the Common Council were less pleased with the Water Board’s decision to keep its $70,000 full-time superintendent position, a job that hasn’t been filled for several years and is expected to cost about $100,000 when benefits are included, Jackson said.
Water Board President Michael Capparello has called the position necessary, saying the superintendent will carry out duties such as scheduling, grant writing and other tasks. Jackson and members of the Common Council have called the position a waste of taxpayer dollars. The council proposed delegating the superintendent’s duties to the city engineer and the deputy city engineer for $15,000 stipends apiece, but the Water Board has officially rejected the idea.
“We need somebody full time, and the [city] can’t provide us with services full-time,” Capparello said.
Capparello said he had no comment on the timeline or plans for filling the superintendent position, refusing to elaborate any more than: “We’re looking. We’re looking out there to see what’s available and who is available.” Capparello said he did not know whether a job listing had been posted, and an internet search returned no results.
The Water Board approves its own budget independent of the city’s budget, with funding coming from water rents paid for by residents and businesses. In November, water rates in the city climbed by 36% after the Water Board approved the increase.
“That’s their choice,” Jackson said of the Water Board’s decision to go forward with a superintendent position. “I still think it could be done within the city and save the taxpayers money. If they want to pay $100,000 versus $30,000, let the public express their opinion on that.”
The city removed the $30,000 from the city engineer line, which had been included in the tentative budget in case the Water Board opted for the stipend proposal.
In a statement to the city, Capparello said the stipend idea wouldn’t save money.
“The city’s proposal will not result in cost savings for city taxpayers as the water superintendent position is separately and fully funded in the Water Board’s budget.”
Talarico said he disagrees.
“I think it’s a terrible waste of public money. They say it is water rents, not a tax [that funds the Water Board budget]. But who pays for them? It’s the residents of the city of Johnstown.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at email@example.com and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.