Letter: Board of Finance Democrats members explain salary increase

To the Editor:

There has been much recent discussion surrounding the ordinance passed by the Town Council along party lines to provide a 20.2% multi-year salary increase to the first selectman's position and other elected and appointed town employees. There has been some erroneous information regarding the Board of Finance's role in this, and Board of Finance elected Democrats would like to offer clarification.

First Selectman Herbst presented the first version of the salary increase ordinance to the Board of Finance on Dec. 11. He said he wanted the Board of Finance to make a recommendation to the Town Council as to the right salary for his, and other, positions. The Board of Finance discussed this further at the next meeting, and decided that additional information on salaries in other towns was needed. For example, early on in the process, the salary for Bridgeport's mayor was there for comparison, but not Monroe's first selectman.

Before the Board of Finance could take any action, the budget vote for the 2015-16 fiscal year took place on March 4, 2015. At this meeting, the subject of salaries for the upcoming two years was discussed, but not the salary ordinance. The Board of Finance voted unanimously to give the first selectman, town clerk and treasurer's position a 2.5% annual pro-rated raise beginning in December 2015. The Board of Finance did not have any other discussions about a 20.2% raise or the ordinance. We disagree with the notion that because we voted to fund the Town Contingency account, which contains a budget for raises that may be awarded, that we supported the 20.2% raises. This is not true. The word "contingency" means "if." If the Town Council passed the ordinance, the funding needed to be there to fund it. But if the Town Council voted no, or awarded smaller amounts, the unused money would simply revert to the General Fund at the end of the fiscal year.

After the budget vote, the salary ordinance was moved straight to the Town Council without any recommendation by the Board of Finance. It passed the Town Council along party lines, with all Republicans except one voting in favor, and all Democrats opposed.

To be clear, Board of Finance Democrats did not support this raise at the time, and we do not support it now. Why? First, we believe that guaranteeing salary increases years in advance by way of an ordinance is not good policy. The process that has been in place for the past 50 years has worked well for Trumbull, and doesn't tie our hands going forward.  But our biggest concern is that the raises are more than twice the rate of inflation, twice what seniors are getting in their Social Security checks, and more than twice the average raise that Trumbull taxpayers are getting in their own paychecks. Why should elected officials get more than the people who are paying their salaries?
Andrew Palo, Lainie McHugh, and Tom Kelly
Democratic Board of Finance members