Lew Benton Puts Council Salaries in Historical Perspective

Have read with interest your post on the proposed increase in City Council member compensation.

As I understand, the annual salary would climb from $14,500 to $30,000, a jump of 107%.

A few observations.  First, while the mayor suggests that ‘…Council seats are supposed to be part time’, that has never been memorialized in the current or previous city charters, including the original 1915 Charter.  Certainly though, most, but not all, past council members have held full time jobs or were self employed outside of their council duties and were thus de facto part timers.

Only the independently wealthy or retired could afford to serve without meaningful outside employment income.

The city’s longest tenured commissioner of public safety, for example, was a well known surgeon who managed to run the department with somewhat of an iron fist and, in the process was indicted a number of times before finally resigning for good.  Many others have served credibly on a part time basis while holding down a full time job, profession or business.

What is little known, though, is that for many years the council members were reported to the State Comptroller, for pension credit purposes, as “full time.”  I believe that meant a minimum of 30 hours weekly. Such reporting would allow a member to be vested in the state retirement system in a much shorter period of time.  There may have been a Council resolution adopted sometime in the late 80’s or early 90’s establishing that threshold, at least for retirement benefits.

In the “Rational” appended to the current Charter approved by the voters in November  2001, the Charter Revision Commission noted on page 11:  “As the complexity of government operations increases in Saratoga Springs., the ‘part time’ council may soon become a thing of the past.  There are compelling reasons for moving to a system of full-time elected officials, but we (the Charter Revision Commission) do not think it is in our purview to mandate that.”

It is not correct that, as your entry states, the current rate of $14,500 has been in place since 2001.   The $14,500 salary dates to the 1994 budget year following adoption of a 1993 local law.

The 2000-2001 Charter Revision Commission considered including a salary increase in the then proposed Charter, but ultimately decided to leave it at $14,500.

Wrote the Commission: “For the time being, we chose to keep the compensation at its current level for council members and leave it to them (and ultimately the voters) to decide when the time is ripe to increase he salary.”

In hindsight, we may have been influenced by a concern that a salary increase would compromise the proposal’s adoption at referendum.

So, Council members have not seen a salary increase since 1994, almost 26 years.  Inflationary pressure would make $14,500 in 1994 the equivalent of $25,103 today, an overall increase of 73%.

You may find it interesting that the first City Council members, meeting on June 22, 1915, were salaried at $500 annually.  Deputy salaries varied with the deputy commissioner of finance awarded $1,400 annually, public works $1,500 public safety $1,200.  In that first government there was no deputy accounts commissioner title and, of course, no deputy mayor.

The Council member salary of $500 would be worth about $12,700 in 2019 dollars.

My paternal  grandfather is listed as the first city stenographer at $720 annually.  My wife Linda’s maternal grandfather, Tom Gorman, was deputy commissioner of public safety at the grand total of $1,200.

Hope you find this interesting.




12 thoughts on “Lew Benton Puts Council Salaries in Historical Perspective”

  1. No discussion on Council salaries would be complete without addressing the contributions of our full-time deputy commissioners who along with their staff address the complexities of government operations day to day. The writer makes it apparent that the long lines of family participations within our office ranks over the last century have served their community well.

    There is a myriad of reasons why people choose to run for the part-time respected offices, monetary reimbursement has never been high on the list as has been shown over the last 104 years, yet taking consideration of cost of living, it is time to consider the proposal in front of us to compensate more fairly those who choose to run for those seats.

    It is nice to hear from the Commissioner, it has been a while.


  2. City council is not meant to be one’s primary source of income. Those in leadership are putting a strain on the local economy, which I find highly unethical. Furthermore, if they want to correlate their salaries to inflation, this should have been tied to said rate, and not be a 107% jump.

    Also, will we begin receiving additional 107% of their attention? If so, could we get an update on the east side firehouse? Do more people need to perish before the project is moved forward? Clearly there’s money to go around to spend on themselves. Shame.


    1. Have people perished in the outer district? I know that the city has been making the effort to add another full-service emergency responder station that would be sharing the calls for the whole city 24/7 from the outer district and could be close to making an announcement, but it has not been for the lack of trying.

      Do you have some suggestions for a location? Possibly on your street? Ever consider the idea that the outer district could be equally assessed since the days of its early development and no sewers?

      I do think you should elaborate how our leadership is putting a strain on our economy beyond simply hurling accusations behind a mask of anonymity.


  3. Here you go: https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Morning-fire-damages-multiple-units-in-Saratoga-13491498.php

    Sure, I would welcome a station on my street, as it would increases safety of my family and neighbors.

    More money spent on salaries = less money to do other projects. There’s a lot that needs to get done. For example, consider how many cross walks are not ADA compliant all across the city. I would rather the money go towards the greater good, than select few.


    1. Find that parcel on that street and bring it to the table. You will find many on the Ridge not all embracing of sirens through the night running back into center city, but that is the realty. As you know, a new station would not be only for your street but for everyone. The search has been going on for many years some prospects fizzled, but another is in the works.

      I would suggest you review our city budget before making the claim that increasing salaries for individuals who work long hours is outrageous rather than long but overdo. It was one of the issues that only wealthy people and retirees could afford a small part stipend as sitting Commissioner. Most all were not retirees but working people in the community. This long overdue raise is a fraction of our budget. Coincidently, our present council has achieved almost everything that its critics had complained about even though many of those protestations were mostly nit-picking and short on real solutions or understanding of how difficult and slow some issues can take.

      Our greatly needed parking garage has been a 30 year debate and the new EMT fire substation has been almost a decade old. So, if one of your neighbors has land to develop into station N0.3 that would be wonderful.


      1. Jim, your posts are appearing to come from the “throw it over the fence” mentality. There has to be responsibility assigned.

        In other words, my faction, finds the quality of work produced by the current council – unsatisfactory. At the same time, we do not think the group that’s advocating abandoning this form of government convincing either.

        In summary, the current council, nor the anti-council rhetorics are satisfactory.

        A council is a great form of local government, but the current group is more interested in self-profit, than greater good.


      2. Say’s you. I wish I could take you more seriously than your pseudonym implies. Shame. We are not in agreement, but I sign my name.


  4. Jim, I am not certain what you using your name has anything to do with the topic at hand. All you did was attack me personally, without stating anything to change or invalidate my concerns. On this forum, it is my choice to remain anonymous, and I have done nothing but voice my views in a respectful manner.


    1. As is your choice but hiding behind an anonymous pseudonym does little to make your case. Personal attack? My comment was directed at a masked individual. For it to be personal, you have to stand out on your own. I would review your self defined respectful comments on this thread before suggesting others are attacking Papa Gino or whomever.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hey Papa,

    Don’t take Jim personally.

    He’s been at me for some time now and can’t understand why I won’t let him knock on my front door.
    While he chooses to joust naked, some of us like to keep our pants on.

    Funny thing is — he has no idea who you are old buddy.
    And THAT’s funny in itself, eh old man?

    Wine and chess make for an interesting game.
    Or is it cheese?

    Might take a walk down Fifth this evening.

    Tah-tah old chum,

    JC 😉


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