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Boston Town Board disagrees over raises for elected officials

A public hearing regarding theTown of Boston’s 2012-13 budget proposal generated no comments from the general public in attendance at the board meeting on Nov. 7, but Supervisor Martin Ballowe and the councilmen made their opinions heard when it came time to approve the salaries of elected officials. While Ballowe, the councilmen and Town Clerk Jennifer Mule are budgeted for their same pay rate from years previous ($22,640; $7,770 and $43,515 annually, respectively), the two town justice positions and Superintendent of Highways Robert Telaak stand to see an increase on next year’s paycheck. The justices will make $15,656 each, while Telaak is slotted in for $54,545 in 2013. It was the last two figures in particular that were challenged by Councilmen Larry Murtha and Gary Vara.

“I want to be consistent with the same way I was with the highway contract,” said Murtha. “I’m against raises at this time. These are tough times. I think it’s time for us to acknowledge that.”

Vara added, “I voted ‘no’ based on the same premise (as Murtha), that I voted against the highway contract. I did not vote based on only these salaries present here. I’m glad the parks department guys got raises. I did not vote against that. I just, with the way the economy is, I just had to be consistent with my vote.”

Ballowe came to the defense of the raises, saying, “I can appreciate everyone who works in the town and does a great job. When I walked in the door, we were overstaffed, (and), nobody took the initiative to watch the budgets and how the town’s money was spent. We decided not to fill four positions in the town, which was a cost savings. We look at how dollars are spent, how they’re budgeted, where they’re going and what they’re being used for and we tracked dollars very hard. We were able to cut taxes for 2011, 2012 and now 2013.

“(Cutting taxes) doesn’t go by just one person; that goes by each department saving money, watching how money’s spent. I don’t have a problem with a cost-of-living raise. The cross-training that these people do, work through these building and these departments is fantastic. Not one person works in one department. It’s carried from department to department; whenever a hand is needed, they move over; it saves the taxpayers money. It’s a win situation. When you can keep good employees and you can keep employees happy and having them cross-trained in different areas, it’s a win for our town.

“We not only did that; we paid down debt. We went away from bonding every year, which saved the taxpayers’ money, to long-term loans on low interest rates, which now the town has locked in, so we saved all that money with bonding every year. We went from a losing proposition on the troopers barracks where the rent wasn’t really covering the loan, to a winning proposition, where now the rent in 25 years will make the town over half a million dollars in rent . . . .”

He continued, “We just received a little raise this year, so when you work hard, I don’t have a problem rewarding it. And the rewards are cheap. If you compare our salaries to other towns around us, we are the lowest paid town around. We did salary comparisons. So I don’t have a problem with it. I appreciate the hard work that everybody does. It’s not a one-man operation. It’s an operation of 50 people. It doesn’t go unnoticed by myself. So I don’t have a problem with the budget. I think the budget’s is a good, good, solid, conservative budget. When you can go these days and not raise taxes, as you see with other towns, school districts, counties, states – and our town doesn’t raise taxes for three years in a row and actually cuts them a little? It’s a win-win for us. It’s a win for the citizens of the town.

“I take my job very seriously,” Ballowe said. “I come in here; I put in an exorbitant amount of time to make sure that every day I’m watching what is spent and how it’s spent. And I hope that everyone else would do the same. So I don’t have a problem with the budget. I appreciate your hard work, and it doesn’t go unnoticed. And beside me saying that, the other way is to give you a cost of living raise . . . . So when you say it’s time to give it a cut, I got to totally, totally disagree with you.”

Councilman Jay Boardway also supported the raises. “The vote that was taken at that point in time was simply on the elected official salaries,” he said. “Just to clarify, and these numbers are available, when the supervisor took office three years ago, he reduced his salary by 20 percent. It was a promise that was made by him . . . . He remains at that same level. He has never taken a raise since he has been sitting behind this bench.

“The councilmen’s salaries remain at $7,770 for a year’s worth of work,” Boardway went on. “We have not taken a raise. Councilman (Jeff) Genzel and myself I can speak for: because we were not legally allowed to reduce our salary by 20 percent unless the other councilmen agreed to do the same thing – and they refused – [we] donate that additional 20 percent to worthwhile causes in the town.

“Our newly elected town clerk, in fact, did not take a raise. There’s no increase in her salary. The town justices received a very small raise. That’s two judges we have. It’s a little more than $30,000 in salary that they get as a combination between the two of them, yet the court office in this town brings in revenue of over $190,000 a year to this town. That’s a very small price to pay.”

Boardway continued, “Our highway superintendent got a slight raise as well after the board deliberated on this. Bob has done a fantastic job. He’s eliminated $800,000 worth of debt in his office over the last four years and additionally is woefully underpaid. He’s paid less than the highway superintendent in Eden, in Colden, in Aurora – every town around us. He is still not on par, even with this small raise this year. So that was the vote that was taken place, that [Murtha and Vara] voted ‘no’ to. Those two raises in there, they’re miniscule compared to the amount of work that these people do for our town.”

Ballowe clarified that Telaak will receive a four-percent raise instead of a three-percent one for 2013 because he was scheduled for a three-percent raise in 2012, but a “clerical error” resulted in his earning just a two-percent raise this past year. “To be fair and on par with everyone else, we gave (Telaak) four (percent) this year,” said Ballowe.

“I think to sort one person out, you don’t realize how important the highway superintendent is, that he not only does that but he does the parks department,” Ballowe said. “He lends all his guys to the parks department. We would have to sub all that out, and I’m sure you guys all know about prevailing wage, being here. I’m sure that you can understand that . . . when you start subbing work out, it gets the taxpayers’ money eaten up very quickly. So instead of doing that, he’s nice enough to bring his equipment over [and] do it that way. He doesn’t have to do that by law.”

Despite the disagreement, the salaries passed by a three-to-two vote without any public comment.

In other board matters:

• The board moved to approve a special permit for 6752 Mill St., subject to a few conditions in regards to the installation of a propane tank. Namely, the board asked that bollards be put up around the tank, that a chain-link fence be constructed around the property and that the site itself be cleaned up to match the town’s site plan.

“As the planning board liaison, I have seen this project from the beginning,” said Genzel. “I have no problem with a company expanding and trying to make more money in this day and age, especially after the election. But what my concerns are and the planning boards concerns are, they would like to see bollards completely around the propane tank. This is to benefit the public so someone doesn’t drive into it . . . . There are quite a few tanks that have chain-link fences. I understand the lockbox on this tank is the security for this tank, but the planning board did suggest a chain-link fence around the facility to keep away children, adults, anybody that might be tinkering around with it. My other concern was that the site doesn’t match the site plan.”

• The board voted unanimously to approve the service award points for the Patchin Fire Company, concluding months of deliberation. “I think I got this all cleared up,” said Ballowe. “We’ve got it all taken care of.”

• The board carried a motion to approve a lease agreement between the town and Black Rose Kennels, a dog shelter located at 6153 South Abbot Road in Orchard Park.

The board will reconvene on Wednesday, November 21 at 7:30 pm. The meeting will be held at the town hall, the address for which is 8500 Boston State Road in Boston.

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