Aldermen disagree on need for pay increase

If Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s proposed raise is approved next month, he may be able to use the money to buy a new car. But with his aldermanic salary, Ward 11 Alderman Robert Lee said he could only buy its gas.

Of the 11 aldermen interviewed this week, many said they would welcome a raise in their “very low” wages. According to city records, Board members have not received a raise in almost 20 years.

While most aldermen said they need an additional job in order to handle their expenses, all of them also said they manage to make do with their current aldermanic pay.

But that has not always been the case. In the past, the low income and large time commitment that came with the work prevented aldermen from sticking with the job, some current aldermen said.

Still, many said they are wary of asking their constituents for a higher salary because the inevitable tax increase that would accompany a wage expansion would not be appealing to city residents.

According to New Haven’s charter, aldermanic pay increases can only be implemented by means of a city-wide referendum on Election Day.

Through the current aldermanic pay system, aldermen receive a $2,000 yearly stipend split over 12 monthly payments. The president of the Board, Ward 29 Alderman Carl Goldfield, receives $2,400. Since the system’s creation in September 1988, there have been no increases of the stipend.

City Hall Spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said the stipend can only cover a few expenses, such as transportation costs or newsletter production.

“They do treat this as a second full-time job,” she said.

Yet some aldermen said the money does not cover all aldermanic expenses and the “enormous” amount of time needed to communicate with constituents and plan city legislation.

“It’s nowhere near what aldermen should get,” Lee said. “But there’s nothing we can do.”

In addition to working as an alderman, Lee works for Sikorsky Aircraft — a helicopter manufacturer in Stratford, Conn. — where he said he does “alright” with daily expenses.

Lee said he wants to see residents vote to increase the stipend for the aldermen because — outside of their meetings and phone calls with constituents — aldermen also donate money and gifts to the community.

But not all city officials face the same salary struggles as the aldermen.

DeStefano requested a $25,000 raise in his salary from the Board of Aldermen Finance Committee on Nov. 8, two days after he was re-elected to an eighth term.

Last Tuesday, the Finance Committee voted to grant the mayor a raise two-thirds the size of the increase he has requested. Under the proposal, DeStefano would make $131,010 a year.

If the raise, which was proposed by the committee last week, is passed by the whole Board in December, DeStefano will receive a wage increase that would make his salary 101.6 percent higher than when he came into office in 1994.

This rate of increase would be at least double that of mayoral salaries in most similar-sized Connecticut cities.

Several aldermen said they have been openly supportive of the mayoral raise. But regular raises for full-time jobs like that of the mayor do not necessarily apply to the job of alderman, they said — instead, their positions are essentially volunteer work.

Mayorga and many members of the Finance Committee interviewed Sunday said a raise for the mayor always passes when a request is filed — but, as is the case this year, not always for the amount asked.

The raise for mayors like DeStefano is often “expected” because of factors like cost of living and their long-standing residence in office, Mayorga said.

Lee said he plans to vote against the $16,010 increase for the mayor, which he says is simply too large.

Aldermen have tried to change the pay system in the past.

Outgoing Ward 2 Alderwoman Joyce Chen ’01 had proposed a plan to change the aldermanic pay system in 2002, several aldermen said.

A member of the Charter Revision Committee — a group of 15 city officials who meet every 10 years to make changes to New Haven’s city charter — Chen detailed a plan that would have halved the Board to a group of 15 and allotted them part-time yearly wages of at least $10,000.

The proposal was dismissed by the committee, which never made the recommendations to the Board, aldermen said.

That year, the charter’s reform referendum failed by a city-wide vote of 6,405-6,158. Chen was opposed to the ultimate reform proposal, the News reported in 2002.

Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances “Bitsie” Clark said an alderman should not take the job for financial issues but rather to support city residents. There is “satisfaction” in helping out the community and being responsible for a neighborhood, she said.

A former director of the New Haven Arts Council, Clark said she understands the “tremendous” responsibility that a leader like DeStefano has to shoulder. She said aldermen have a “totally different job.”

Still, Clark said she thinks some aldermen — such as Chen — can “struggle” with the low income and often will stop running for office in order to have more time to make money for daily expenses.

Chen could not be reached for comment after repeated calls this week.

Ward 6 Alderwoman Dolores Colon, a member of the Finance Committee, said she does not think large pay raises are necessary for her to do her job — or for the mayor to do his.

“I don’t care,” she said. “I don’t want a raise. But he has a family, so I don’t know [what] his financial responsibilities are.”

While taking classes as a student at the School of Public Health and sending e-mails to her constituents, Ward 2 alderwoman-elect Gina Calder ’03 EPH ’08 will not have time to take a better-paying job, she said. But she is not worried.

“I had to live on little or no funds [before],” she said. “You just got to learn how to make [the stipend] stretch to make it work.”

The mayoral pay raise will be voted on by the full Board at its Dec. 17 meeting.

Comments