SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ — One of Al Smith's campaign promises as he walked from house to house in Scotch Plains was that if elected, he would forego the $6,000 annual salary that comes with the position and essentially be a volunteer, as is the case in neighboring Fanwood and Westfield.
When Mayor Smith raised the idea at Tuesday evening's Township Council meeting, the plan received a cool reception from John Del Sordi and Rose Checchio, who both worried that the loss of the salary could discourage less affluent members of the community from seeking office.
"If you choose to do that, it's your prerogative," said Councilman John Del Sordi, who opposes the idea. "There might be someone who decides not to run (if the salary goes away). I cannot support it. I think it's not the direction that we need to be going. If someone doesn't want to take the money, they don't have to take it."
Councilwoman Rose Checchio opposes the idea for similar reasons.
"People make decisions and sacrifices of time away from their families. Sometimes there is an expense -- getting dinner (because there is no time to cook) or paying a babysitter," Checchio said, adding that taking away the salary could discourage a single mother from becoming involved. "Are these not the voices that should be heard on this Council? Not everyone is in the same (financial) position as people in Fanwood and Westfield."
Newly elected Councilman Ted Spera said that although it is a part-time job, it takes a lot of time. For instance, Council members are encouraged to attend events such as the League of Municipalities conference each November.
"I'm not fully prepared to move forward (in supporting the proposal)," Spera said.
Llewellyn Jones said that the money paid to the Council members doesn't come close to matching the amount of time they put in. However, he believes that the Township would "still get people stepping up regardless."
Jones explained that "it's $30,000 a year. The taxpayer could pay a little less or get a little bit more" if Council members gave up their salaries.
"We put in our time. So do our neighbors in Fanwood and Westfield. They're paid a dollar a year because it's the law," Mayor Smith said. "I think we should ponder and consider. It was something I wanted to bring forward."