Salaries for serving on Amherst Town Council to double to $10K next term

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 06-28-2023 2:53 PM

AMHERST — Annual stipends for the 13 councilors will double to $10,000 beginning Jan. 2, 2024, the first increase in pay since the council first formed in 2018.

The Town Council voted by a 7-4 count Monday to increase annual pay for councilors from $5,000 to $10,000, with the council president’s salary going up from $7,500 to $12,000. The increases, which are set to take effect in January when a new council is seated, are subject to future funding, though the source of that money is not yet known.

“I think it’s very, very important to continue to look at it in that light as an initiative to increase diversity and participation, and not just an increase in our salary,” At Large Councilor Ellisha Walker said.

The vote overrides a recommendation from the Finance Committee to increase compensation for councilors from $5,000 to $7,500 and the council president from $7,500 to $9,000.

But the decision matches a proposal from Walker and District 1 Councilor Michele Miller that sought to increase the stipends so that people of different socioeconomic status, life makeups, household compositions and races and ethnicities might be inclined to run for election this November.

The vote requires Town Manager Paul Bockelman to identify a funding plan that will add $64,500 annually, though $32,250 in the first year, by Oct. 1. Bockelman said he will come back with recommendations for those options, rather than using a supplemental appropriation.

Also voting yes were District 5 Councilor Ana Devlin Gauthier, At-Large Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke, District 4 Councilors Anika Lopes and Pamela Rooney and District 3 Councilors Dorothy Pam and Jennifer Taub

Opposing were Council President Lynn Griesemer, District 1 Councilor Cathy Schoen, At-Large Councilor Andy Steinberg and District 2 Councilor Pat De Angelis. Miller and District 5 Councilor Shalin Bahl-Milne were absent.

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Devlin Gauthier said the stipend increase will allow more people who might need baby-sitting and other services to run for elective office.

“It would make this process slightly more reasonable for a broader part of our community,” Devlin Gauthier said.

“There are a lot of things at stake, and one of them is democracy, so I would say let us support the $10,000 a year salary for councilors for the incoming council,” Pam said.

Pam said councilors should make it possible for a broader cross section of people to serve, including young parents. “Having been a mother of three kids without much money, I know how difficult that would be,” Pam said.

Hanneke ended up voting in favor, though said she was struggling with the idea of a supplemental appropriation, after the School Committee asked for more money in its budget last year, and was rejected, and did similarly this year. Hanneke, who was vice chairwoman of the charter commission, said that the original salaries were supposed to be sufficient for child care or elder care, but haven’t proven to be so.

Schoen said she worries that taxpayers see councilors stretching the limits of town funding with new departments, and so they should be parsimonious with council stipends.

“It’s a very real perception of who do we represent that we shouldn’t be taking care of ourselves alone we should be financially accountable,” Schoen said.

The stipends remains short of the Northampton City Council, which recently voted to boost its stipends from $9,000 to $16,931, with the council president earning $21,164.

Griesemer said during next year’s charter review the hope is to come up with a committee that could examine adjustments to the compensation for the council in the future, as well as for School Committee members, who continue to be paid $3,000 a year.

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