Harrietstown supervisor requests $20K pay raise
Mallach wants raise to reflect full-time work, Riley opposes doubling pay
SARANAC LAKE — Harrietstown Supervisor Jordanna Mallach is requesting a $20,000 salary increase in the town’s preliminary budget, saying the hours she puts into the position each week have saved the town tens of thousands of dollars, improved its services and improved working conditions for its employees.
The town board began discussing its budget for the next fiscal year last week, and while everything is subject to change, the council seems split on the proposal to double the supervisor’s salary, which would effectively make the part-time position pay as much as a full-time job.
Ultimately, the rest of the town board will have to agree to the pay raise. Currently, though its members are not all of one mind on the increase, the increase looks likely to pass.
Councilmembers Tracey Schrader and Ashley Milne support it. Councilmember Howard Riley says he is “totally opposed” to it. Councilmember Johnny Williams did not speak strongly for or against the raise, but he said Mallach has been putting in a lot of work.
Mallach currently earns an $18,385 salary.
“I believe I’m worth more than that,” Mallach said at a town budget session on Thursday.
She’s proposing a $39,000 salary, an increase of $20,615 — more than twice her current salary.
“I think that the time that I’ve put in at the town hall has saved us a significant amount of money,” she said.
For example, she said she cut a $56,000 bill from the state Department of Environmental Conservation for advisement on the PFAS Superfund cleanup at the Adirondack Regional Airport in half. Mallach said town Bookkeeper Beth Bevilacqua told her she would have gotten that bill and just paid it. Mallach said she called the DEC, pushed back and got it reduced to $28,000.
She said she got the town’s Verizon contract reduced because she saw it was paying for devices that were never used. She also informed its garbage collection company, Casella, that it had three contracts — the town hall, airport and Dewey Mountain — which gave the town more negotiating power and consolidated its rates to reduce prices.
Mallach said she treats the job differently than supervisors in the past, putting in 30 hours in the office a week. That increased time, she said, equals cost savings. She doesn’t think $39,000 is “extreme” given the time she puts in.
“What I thought was reasonable, what the budget could support. I put it at $39,000,” Mallach said on Thursday. “That’s my proposed salary in this budget.”
There was a moment of silence after Mallach spoke. Riley said he was surprised by the request.
Riley said on Monday that the position does not need to be a full-time job. It had never been before, and he feels the town’s been run efficiently with supervisors working two or three hours a day.
He knows she’s worked hard, but said she’s made being a supervisor a full-time job “overnight.” He said he’s not opposed to approving a raise for Mallach, but he thinks that doubling it is too much.
Mallach said the board can choose to adjust her salary.
“I don’t own the budget,” she said.
She’s one vote on a board of five people.
Mallach said she looked at what an average person in Harrietstown makes to help determine her proposal.
The town supervisor’s salary was $15,000 until three years ago, Mallach said, when it got raised to $17,500, and then $18,385 the year after.
Mallach was asked what would happen if a supervisor puts in less time than she is now but still pulls the same salary. She said the supervisor’s salary is up for adjustment every year.
What board members say
Milne said the salary increase is large in comparison to the current pay, but she feels it’s not close to the amount of increased work Mallach has put in.
“Jordanna has put in more than enough time,” Milne said. “She is deserving of that.”
Milne said she hasn’t looked at the whole budget yet and still needs to make sure it fits in with the rest of the budget.
Schrader said Harrietstown supervisors have traditionally been either retired and drawing a pension or business-owners who gave a few hours a day to the job.
“This is Jordanna’s only job and she’s been doing it extremely well,” Schrader said. “She’s a good leader. … Jordanna has been on top of things.”
She said she feels saving the town money on that DEC bill was “amazing.” Schrader pointed out that Mallach’s proposed salary increase this year would practically be the amount of money she saved the town from that catch.
“She is more than worth it,” Schrader said. “I have no problem with what she is asking. … She has been doing the most work of any supervisor that I have worked with.”
Schrader said this is not a dig at past supervisors, but she feels the town’s gotten more done in the past year than she had in her previous four-year term on the board.
She said it has always bothered her that the low pay of the public office seat may limit people who can run for office to only those who can afford to be a supervisor. To do the job right, Schrader said, “it’s more than a part-time job.”
Williams said he’s new to the budgeting process, so he didn’t want to say much, but he said “there’s been a large amount of work put into this tentative budget and I think there’s been due diligence to making sure the taxpayers’ dollars are being spent appropriately.”
Milne pointed out that Essex County town supervisors — who also serve in a countywide capacity on the county’s board of supervisors — make significantly more. That’s between $50,000 and $60,000 a year, Mallach said. Those positions are typically full-time.
Riley said these two roles keep the town supervisors in that county busy.
Other raises discussed
Council members are currently budgeted to receive a 2% pay increase. Most town department heads requested a 25% salary increase for their employees.
“I did not feel this budget could support that,” Mallach said on Thursday. “But if you tell me that’s a priority and that’s what we want to do, then we’ll go back and we’ll change it and pull money from somewhere else.”
“I feel strongly that our employees are our most valuable asset,” Mallach said on Monday.
But she added that 25% raises would mean the town would need to generate significantly more revenue — that would be through raising taxes — which could make the budget surpass the state tax cap.
All town employees are currently budgeted to receive a 15% pay increase, which Mallach said includes a 20% increase in benefits. Riley said he’s in favor of raises for all town employees, but he’s not sure the 15% raises can stick.
The town Code and Zoning Enforcement Officer Todd David had put in for a 25% increase. On Thursday, he said his department took a “huge pay cut” of 20% in 2019 and he wants to get back on track.
The 15% raise the current budget give him is “great,” he said, but still significantly lower than other code officers in the area. He said he’s “trying to level the playing field” with other local municipalities.
“The village has a starting salary for their code officer who has no experience, who is not certified. It’s $15,000 more than what I’m making now,” David said.
David said village code officer Chris McClatchie earns a $57,000 salary while he makes $44,000. David has been Harrietstown code officer for three years.
Riley said he supports David’s request. He said his predecessor retired with a $60,000 salary.
“OK, so where should the money come out of?” Mallach asked.
“I don’t know,” Riley said. “Where would your salary come out of?”
At the end of Thursday’s meeting Riley and Mallach got into an argument about communication and raised voices at each other. Both of them, and other board members, said things have been a bit tense between the two as of late.
Mallach said she feels Riley is overly critical of her. Riley said he feels left out of big meetings by Mallach.
“I don’t expect that everyone on the town board is going to agree with how I do things,” she said. “But I think there is a level of respect that I would expect from everyone.”
Schrader said she felt Riley has been “out of line.” She said she likes and respects him, but said she feels he’s undermining Mallach. Schrader chalked this up to an “old-school mentality.”
“When leadership changes, it’s hard for everyone to adjust to change,” Mallach said.
She said doing something wrong and doing it differently are not the same.
Budget process dates
The budget is still very tentative — the board only began working on it on Thursday.
The town will hold a budget work session on Oct. 11 from 10 a.m. to noon at the Adirondack Regional Airport; another on Oct. 15 at 5 p.m. before the regular board meeting; and another on Oct. 20 at 5 p.m.
Mallach said the budget is when the town sets its priorities. It only has so much money to spend.
Mallach said the board will probably vote on the budget on Nov. 8, which is also Election Day before the state budget adoption deadline on Nov. 20. There’s an alternate budget vote date of Nov. 17.
Mallach said she expects the budget will be able to stay below the state-imposed tax cap — which is set for Harrietstown this year at a 3.13% increase over what it collected in taxes last year.
The tax cap would set the maximum amount the town could levy in taxes without adopt a resolution to override the tax cap at $2,740,933.
Mallach said there is a 10% increase in health insurance prices for non-union employees, this year, but that the town will pay that increase, instead of the employees. Union employees have a smaller health insurance cost increase and union members will pay for that increase.
She said there are no proposed changes to retirement medical benefits. In speaking with other municipalities about budgeting, she said she’s learned Harrietstown is unique in the retirement benefits it offers. Other towns in Franklin County don’t offer retirement benefits, she said.
Harrietstown is the exception to the rule, which she said is a “good thing,” adding that she wants to “sustain” this.