PATERSON, NJ – A proposal to establish fixed salary ranges for department heads in Paterson was met by opposition Thursday evening during the council’s workshop meeting.
After a nearly two-hour discussion on the proposed ordinance, the council held off on introducing it amid concerns of the timing and intent of the measure.
Despite repeated assurances from Mayor Andre Sayegh that it “was not about salary increases” and was “just about setting salary ranges,” a practice done by many municipalities, several council members said they didn’t feel comfortable moving forward right now.
According to Sayegh, it’s been five years since the city updated its salary ordinance and establishing a “quite expansive range” would give Paterson flexibility in recruiting and retaining talented employees.
“The operative word is flexibility,” the mayor said. “I want to reiterate that this doesn’t increase salaries.”
Councilman Flavio Rivera said, “If one of the department heads was to leave today, this gives them the flexibility when posting for the position to offer a salary based on experience. The purpose of the ordinance is not to increase salaries, but to have it there in case someone leaves. The ordinance also gives flexibility to the administration to give salaries they feel are justified for his team.”
After an analysis of municipal salaries in nearby cities including Jersey City, Newark, Elizabeth, Passaic and East Orange, the following ranges were proposed for Paterson department heads:
Community Development Director: $90,000-120,000, proposed range ($92,000, current salary)
Economic Development Director: $90,000-130,000, proposed range ($107,000, current salary)
Financial Director: $90,000-170,000, proposed range ($140,000, current salary)
Health & Human Services Director: $90,000-120,000, proposed range ($92,000, current salary)
Corporation Counsel: $90,000-135,000, proposed range ($122,000, current salary)
Public Safety/Police Director: $90,000-120,000, proposed range ($95,000, current salary)
Public Works Director: $90,000-120,000, proposed range ($105,000, current salary)
Tax Assessor: $80,000-125,000, proposed range ($105,000, current salary)
Tax Collector: $80,00-124,000, proposed range ($75,000, current salary)
Mayor: $110,000-150,000, proposed range ($119,000, current salary)
Business Administrator: $100,000-150,000, proposed range ($110,000, current salary)
City Clerk: $92,000-125,000, proposed range ($92,000, current salary)
During Thursday’s meeting, concerns were also expressed by the council over how they’d be perceived for approving anything salary-related amid a public health emergency that has left tens of thousands in New Jersey jobless and struggling to make ends meet.
Council President Maritza Davila said based on “where we are with the pandemic” she doesn’t believe it is “the right thing to do” to “even have the conversation” regarding the salary ordinance, but she put it on the agenda at the request of the mayor so the entire council could discuss it.
After saying she’s been hearing from residents who have lost jobs and have yet to receive unemployment benefits from the state, Councilwoman Ruby Cotton believes it is “bad timing.” She also said “more dialogue was needed” on the matter.
Councilman Luis Velez suggested it be reconsidered “another day” when “the city is financially stable and COVID is past us.”
“If he’s not giving increases, why are we talking about salary ranges?” he said.
Councilman Al Abdelaziz reminded the governing body the salary ordinance “is the mayor’s proposal” and is “something he has to defend.”
“This is his ordinance, we get to vote at the first reading and second reading,” he said. “It gives the flexibility, but the council controls the budget.”
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