By Carina Livoti
The Huntington Bay Village Board of Trustees voted in favor of paying themselves during a trustee meeting on April 27.
The board voted 4-1 to approve a law that calls for annual compensation of $18,000 for the mayor; $4,800 each for the trustee-police commissioner and trustee-road commissioner; and $2,400 each for the remaining trustees. Compensation does not include expenses for major events.
“The reason we did this is most of the villages in the state do this, many villages in Suffolk County do this, and I thought it was time that Huntington Bay step up to the plate,” Mayor Herb Morrow said.
According to Deputy Mayor and Trustee-Police Commissioner Dominic Spada, the village has been in the minority. Twenty-one of 32 villages in Suffolk County and 87 percent of those in the state pay their elected officials, he said.
The concept of compensation was first raised three years ago, however the sums in earlier proposals where larger and included a health benefits package.
Still, some members of the community and board took issue with the law.
“I think one of the overriding problems is we’re voting ourselves compensation… We’re supposed to be fiduciaries,” Trustee Don Rave, who case the sole dissenting vote, said. “Fiduciaries are supposed to act not in self-interest; they’re supposed to act in the interest of the organization for which they’re trustees.”
Rave added that he does believe the trustees deserve compensation, but said their voting on in it is not a question of merit but rather one of fiduciary responsibility.
“Just because we deserve it doesn’t mean that as fiduciaries it’s in the best interest of the village that we vote for it,” he said.
Rave echoed concerns raised by some residents that voting this type of law in could lead to a slippery slope of additional benefits and suggested that rather than vote on a law to pay all trustees, that the trustees should instead vote to pay only the mayor. That would alleviate the issue of voting to pay themselves and provide a fair check and balance, he said.
Community members asked whether it would be possible to form committees to help ease the burden on the mayor and board, pointing out that many village citizens are retired and as such have time.
“The idea that committees will take work away from the trustees and the mayor, I fundamentally don’t believe that… At the end of the day, we’re elected officials; you can’t outsource that work,” Morrow said.
Spada took the idea one step further, saying that he believed community members are not always as willing to be as active as they were on the night of the April 27 meeting.
“If you come to a typical board meeting, there are crickets here. All of a sudden, this is the biggest board meeting since I’ve started,” he said.
He added that the issue of volunteerism did not truly apply here.
“I volunteer for a lot of stuff. I’m captain of the fire department; I coach; I help out with the Wounded Warrior project—this is far beyond volunteerism,” he said.
In response to concerns about the increased expense of paying elected officials, Morrow pointed out that taxes have not increased in three years.
Resident Deb Colton pointed out that the proposed compensation for the mayor is nearly three times that of the Northport Village mayor, who is paid $7,500 a year. She pointed out that Northport is much larger.
Morrow said that he feels that Northport’s mayor is underpaid.
The law passed, with only Rave voting against it. Rave motioned to vote on his proposition to pay only the mayor, however the motion fell flat without a second.
Residents have a chance to contest the law through a process known as a permissive referendum. If 20 percent of the population that voted in the last election signs a petition opposing the law, the law will be put to a public vote.
The board also adopted a $1,954,750 budget, which included no tax increases. Money for potential compensation had been placed in a budget line labeled “contingency” and will be moved to a formal compensation line now that the law has passed. Last year’s $53,000 contingency fund allocation was moved to the general fund after the compensation issue was tabled.
Morrow said he also plans to rebuild village hall this year, a task for which he said he would form a committee to keep the community involved in the building plans.