NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – City Council members are getting a pay hike.
That’s because the council adopted an ordinance last week that cemented pay raises for the panel’s five members. The move, which drew some criticism at City Hall, opened the door to thousands of dollars in pay increases over the next five years.
“This wasn’t to enrich anybody, or it wasn’t to make any money,” New Brunswick Council President Glen Fleming said, “because we don’t do this to make money. We do this to serve people.”
Holding a council seat is not considered a full-time job. They attend two public meetings per month and may represent the city or engage with residents outside those functions.
Prior to the pay raise, the council president earned $9,500 per year, according to municipal code. Individual council members each made $9,000 per year.
Those pay rates were in place since July 1997, according to New Brunswick’s municipal code.
Once the ordinance goes into effect, the council president will earn $11,000 in 2017, for an increase of $1,500. That number is slated to rise to $12,500 in 2019 and $14,000 in 2021, according to the ordinance.
Four years from now, the council president’s pay hike will equal $4,500. That’s an increase of roughly 47 percent from that position’s prior stipend.
Council members are in line to earn $10,500 in 2017, for an increase of $1,500. By 2019, that figure will rise to $12,000 and then to $13,500 in 2021, according to the ordinance.
The final raise also boosts council members’ pay by $4,500. That represents a 50 percent increase above their prior stipends.
When questioned about the motivation for the pay raise, Fleming said the idea came about “organically.”
He cited a number of statistics comparing costs of living from 20 years ago to today. Everything from the median household income and the cost of a new home to the price of a new car and that of a dozen eggs has since skyrocketed, he noted.
Fleming also broke down the pay increase by week, noting that this year’s hike represents another $35 per member per week.
“We are on call all the time,” he said, noting that City Council members don’t get municipal vehicles, office space or gasoline.
Some members of the public took issue with Fleming’s argument, which he presented on crude posters made by students he teaches.
They said council members aren’t on call nonstop because they’re not obligated to tend to matters outside the official scope of their duties. One woman said she is required to work a certain number of hours but must spend extra time—for which she doesn’t get paid—preparing for the office, a reality of many professions.
Teresa Vivar, a resident who advocates for New Brunswick’s Latino community, thanked council members for their service. But she described that as a moral obligation.
“There’s no need to get paid to do the right thing,” she said.
Vivar asked the council to spend more time getting in touch with Latinos.
Others argued that there were no accountability measures in place to discipline council members. That issue bugged residents in the face of the recent pay hikes.
Charlie Kratovil, editor of the activist newspaper New Brunswick Today, said the council would’ve been smart to mandate that the pay raises go into effect after the upcoming election.
At least one resident in favor of the pay raises showed up to voice his support for the measure.
“At the end of the day, it’s a body of work,” he said. “And I believe that the body of work that this council puts out deserves a raise.”
Council members in Newark reportedly make close to $100,000 per year and receive perks like city cars.
But council members in Perth Amboy reportedly earn $10,000 per year. That city’s council president, meanwhile, makes $12,000. Woodbridge’s council president and council members reportedly earn less than $10,000 per year.
In neighboring Edison, the governing body last year approved pay hikes that give the council president a maximum of $13,000 per year and council members $12,000 per year.
The pay raise doesn’t affect New Brunswick’s mayor, Jim Cahill. He’s earned $40,000 per year for the part-time job since he was elected in 1991.
A city official said Cahill didn’t want a raise at this time.