TUPPER LAKE - The Tupper Lake Village Board hosted a sparsely attended public hearing April 15 on a proposal that would double the stipends of the mayor and trustees.
The meeting, which became heated at times, sought public input on a plan to increase the mayor's annual salary from $4,600 to $9,200. The changes would also increase trustee stipends from $2,400 to $4,800 per year.
Village Mayor Mickey Desmarais said the raises are long overdue, noting the current stipends are the same as they were in 1968.
"Anyone working for the state has received a raise over and over throughout the years," Desmarais said. "I'm not doing this for myself, I'm doing this for the next board to make sure that this long overdue stipend increase happens sooner than later."
The mayor also said he and the other board members work 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"You can't go to church with your family without having someone ask you about village business," Desmarais said.
But a handful of residents expressed their dissatisfaction with the proposal, saying the timing was bad given the current state of the economy.
Village resident Fred Richardson said elected officials should seek office because of a desire to serve the community - not for a secondary source of income.
"Yes, your work is time consuming, but you must have known of the time commitment before you chose to run for office," he said.
Richardson noted many residents struggle to earn even $10,000 a year.
"All of you have other sources of income, so please consider the poor taxpayer who makes less than the mayor will if you pass this at $9,200 a year," Richardson said. "There's numerous amount of people who don't make that a year."
Tina Bradley, also a resident of the village, said she respects the board and its hard work, but said the timing is wrong. She added if the board truly wants to invest in the community, it would decline the proposed raises.
"You mentioned earlier about giving back to the community and investing in the community," Bradley said. "Perhaps that money could be better spent by repairing the roads that feel like you're driving on sand and gravel instead of pavement. That's my opinion, it's shared by other people."
Former Tupper Lake Town Supervisor Greg "Cubby" LaFrance, who lives outside the village limits, said he was opposed to raises for elected officials when he served on the town board.
"I got involved to try and help our community get better," LaFrance said. "I did my time, I worked hard for the community. I accepted the stipend that was budgeted. And there were other members while I was on that board that attempted to introduce raises, and I was always opposed to them."
Desmarais noted the village cannot approve pay raises without first holding a public hearing, while townships may take action independently. He added he has helped save money by changing village policy on trustee benefits.
"The village of Saranac Lake gets paid what we get paid but they get benefits, Lake Placid gets paid what we get paid, but they get benefits," Desmarais said. "In 1998, what I did with Mark Arsenault, we took all and any benefits away from a trustee, and you got healthcare then. That was a savings of $600 a month, for five members, times 11 years since I've been here."
Village Police Chief Tom Fee also weighed in on the debate. He supported the raises, noting he has called the mayor at 2 a.m. to ask for help. Approving trustee raises would also attract higher quality candidates in the future, Fee said.
"To ask for a raise is not only proper, it's right and it ensures the fact that next November, when you people are running we're going to have some quality people running like yourselves," Fee said.
At the end of the hearing, trustees noted of those who attended the meeting, only four were taxpayers in the village.
The board took no action on the stipends after the public hearing. A referendum could be forced on the proposal if a petition carrying the required number of signatures is collected.