How Will The Town Pay For The Raise In Councilor Compensation?


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Report Of The Meeting Of the Amherst Town Council, August 21, 2023. Part 2
This meeting was held in hybrid format and was recorded. It can be viewed here

Lynn Griesemer (President, District 2), Cathy Schoen and Michele Miller (District 1), Pat DeAngelis (District 2), Pam Rooney and Anika Lopes (District 4), Dorothy Pam and Jennifer Taub (District 3), Shalini Bahl-Milne and Ana Devlin Gauthier (District 5), Mandi Jo Hanneke, Andy Steinberg, and Ellisha Walker (at large). Lopes, Pam, Walker, and Miller participated remotely.

Staff: Paul Bockelman (Town Manager), Sean Mangano (Finance Director), and Athena O’Keeffe (Clerk of the Council)

At the June 26 meeting of the Town Council, the councilors voted 7-4 with 2 absent to raise the stipends for councilors from $5,000 per year to $10,000 per year, beginning with the new council in January, 2024. The Town Manager was tasked with appropriating the funds for the increased compensation, since the 2024 budget was already approved. To that end, Town Manager Paul Bockelman and Finance Director Sean Mangano proposed three possibilities for finding the necessary $32,250 to cover councilor compensation during the first six months of 2024. After June, the additional funds would be included in the FY 2025 budget.

  1. Take the money from free cash
  2. Delay implementing the new stipends until July, 2024 when they would be included in the FY 2025 budget
  3. Use funds allocated to the Town Council for training and equipment to cover the increased compensation. However, Bockelman pointed out that new councilors taking office in January would need these funds.

This item was originally placed on the Consent Agenda for referral to the Finance Committee (FC), but Michele Miller (District 1) removed it because she felt the only viable option was the first, so it does not  need to go to the Finance Committee. Dorothy Pam (District 3) wanted to make sure the topic was discussed before it went to the FC, and did not want to open the possibility that the FC could alter the amount of the increase; President Lynn Griesemer (District 2) said the FC cannot change the amount that was voted on by the full council.

Mandi Jo Hanneke (at large) said that if more state aid comes in than anticipated, as in 2023, part of it could be applied to this initiative. Mangano said he did not expect state aid to be as generous this year. Hanneke then proposed that the entire stipend be paid out of the FY 25 budget, meaning that councilors would not get the increase until the second half of the year, but the total would still be $10,000 each..

Pam said, ”Someone who decides to run for the council, particularly after a vote that an increase in pay has been voted, expects that and puts that into their calculations as to how they can do it. The council takes a tremendous amount of time. The compensation we voted on is not high — It is still very, very symbolic — but it might be relevant to somebody’s decision to run without hurting their family.” Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5) agreed, saying “We have to find the money, and that’s hard, but I think it’s an important thing to do and it sends a message that we stand by the first option.”

Hanneke and Andy Steinberg (at large and FC chair) pointed out that in using free cash, the council would be violating a principle of increasing funding to all four aspects of government (elementary schools, regional schools, Jones Library, and operating budget) by the same percentage, and noted that it declined an $84,000 supplemental request from the elementary schools to fund library paraprofessionals. Steinberg also wondered whether the stipends of all elected officials should be doubled, although the increase for library trustees and school committee members would not be able to happen until the FY 2025 budget.

After 40 minutes of discussion, Pat DeAngelis (District 2) proposed stopping debate. By a vote of 10-3 (Pam, Ellisha Walker [at large], and Miller voted no). The council then voted to refer the matter to the FC, as originally proposed.

Councilors Praise Mangano’s Work As Finance Director
This was Mangano’s last council meeting. After August 31, he will leave Amherst to work for a school district. Mangano served as Finance Director of the Amherst schools prior to being appointed Town Finance Director three years ago. Council President Lynn Griesemer (District 2) said, “[Mangano] understands government, understands programs, and he understands how to translate that into budgets, and that is a skill not often found in a financial person.” 

Cathy Schoen (District 1) praised Mangano’s ability to think outside the box and find creative solutions to funding problems. Jennifer Taub (District 3) appreciated how Mangano explains financial issues in lay-person terms. Pam said Mangano is both objective and fair.

I truly believe you have a great town staff. And when I leave, there’s going to be two people that are going to step in [and] keep everything moving forward. Be proud of the good work you’ve done the last three years.

—Finance Director Sean Mangano, who has resigned and will work in an outside school district

Mangano admitted that hearing the praise was “incredibly uncomfortable,” but he appreciates all of the emails he has received from councilors. He said he enjoyed working with all of them in various roles and different committees. He added, “I truly believe you have a great town staff. And when I leave, there’s going to be two people that are going to step in [and] keep everything moving forward. Be proud of the good work you’ve done the last three years. Sometimes we lose sight of all of our accomplishments and everything the town has done, so I would just say, keep that in mind. It doesn’t mean we don’t need to keep doing more and keep getting better and making improvements, but there has been a lot of good work done. Thank you all.”

Vacancy On School Committee Must Be Filled By October 5
Ben Herrington resigned from the School Committee on August 18. The town has 45 days to fill the position with someone to serve until January 2. Griesemer proposed holding interviews on September 26 and September 28 if needed, with a vote that day or October 2. The new appointment will be approved by a vote of the remaining four school committee members and the 13 town councilors, giving more weight to the vote of the councilors. Griesemer detailed the process in a memo. Council rules will apply for the joint meeting.

Town Manager Cites Upcoming Events
Bockelman stated that the ribbon cutting ceremony for East Gables, the studio apartment development at 132 Northampton Street, will be Friday, September 22 at 1 p.m.

The BID Block party is scheduled for September 21. Construction on the North Common is set to begin on September 11, so the parking lot will be out of commission from then on. 

The town has requested bids for repaving 12 roads in town, but has yet to receive any response. The town has employed a consulting firm, GOVHR, to help in the search for a new police chief. Two consultants will meet with residents and town committees, including the council, Human Rights Commission, and Community Safety and Social Justice Committee in one-on-one discussions on September 18 and 19. There will also be public forums. Bockelman is assembling a search committee.

The full town manager report can be read here. 

The meeting adjourned at 10:29 p.m. The next council meeting is scheduled for September 11.

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