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Pay cuts for council, school committee

July 19, 2011

WOONSOCKET – With an eye on the fiscal pain already felt by city employees, members of the City Council on Monday adopted a ten-percent roll back in pay the council and school committee members receive for their city service.
The move approved by a 4-1 council vote with City Councilwoman Suzanne J. Vadenais opposed was a compromise from the 20-percent pay cut Councilman Daniel Gendron had initially proposed for the two panels. City Councilmen Christopher Beauchamp and Roger Jalette were not in attendance.
City Councilwoman Stella Brien had also opposed the pay reduction during earlier discussions of the rollback but agreed to support Gendron’s amendment to a lesser cut of 10 percent.
The change will affect the compensation of the City Council and School Committee members elected into office in November. Gendron said the action had to be decided Monday night in light of time constraints for council changes related to the upcoming opening of the candidate declaration period.
“We have asked so many city employees to take pay cuts it is only fair to ask the City Council and School Committee members to take cuts in income as well,” Gendron said of the proposal.
While some members of the council have already taken voluntary cuts in pay of between 5 to 20 percent, Gendron noted the city employees affected by budgets cuts had no option to refuse their reductions in pay and benefits.
The initial proposal of 20 percent would have dropped the City Council’s annual stipend from $10,000 to $8,000 and the School Committee’s compensation from $8,000 annually to $6,000.
The pay reduction ordinance did not affect the $80,000-a-year salary Mayor Leo T. Fontaine receives as a result of arguments raised by members that they view the position as already underpaid.
Brien had argued against the 20 percent reduction while maintaining that the change could reduce the number of candidates stepping forward to serve in public office. She also pointed to the compensation as important to some members who rely on the stipend as a portion of their regular income in order to put in the time needed to serve on the panel.
Vadenais said Monday that she agreed with Brien’s position that the small reduction in council and school committee pay would not significantly affect the city’s budget problem and as a result constituted little more than “political grandstanding.”
“Just to make a statement that yes we are all going to take a $1,000 cut in pay isn’t going to help. We are going to have to look at other issues to help the city with its budget problem,” she said.
The comprise on the cuts came after Councilman William D. Schneck said he would support the measure if it were to be reduced to a 10-percent pay cut for the pay, a sum more in keeping with the cuts made in other areas.
“We haven’t asked anyone to take a 20-percent pay cut,” he said in support of the change.
Gendron agreed to modify his proposal to that amount and Council President John F. Ward asked that the dollars amounts for each panel also be specified in the amendment.
The change will reduce Council pay to $9,000 for members and $9,250 for the council president. The School Committee’s pay will be reduced to $7,200 for members and to $7,450 for the committee chairman.
A move to also set a sunset clause for the reduction to revert to the prior pay in two years failed on a 3-2 vote of the committee, with Ward and Vadenais opposed. A two-thirds majority was required for passage of the sunset clause, according to City Solicitor Joseph Carroll.
“It’s a small gesture but it is a gesture nonetheless,” Ward said before passage of the ordinance on the 4-1 vote. The move was more an acknowledgement of the reductions that have been required of city employees to balance the city’s budget, Ward offered. “If nothing more it says we also take part of the hit but it is nothing more than a gesture,” Ward said while pointing to the other reductions made in completing this year’s city budget.

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