Salaries for elected officials going up under budget proposal

BEACON FALLS — As the Board of Finance continued crafting a budget proposal for the 2019-20 fiscal year last week, officials turned their attention to the salaries of elected officials.

The board voted to increase the salary for the first selectman position from about $48,000 a year to $55,000. The new salary, if approved as part of the budget, would take effect after the November election. The salary for the first selectman position was last adjusted in 2015, when it was increased from about $34,000 to the current amount.

The first selectman position dominated much of the discussion on salaries during the April 22 joint budget workshop with the Board of Selectmen.

Board of Finance Chairman Thomas Pratt said the most important thing is to try to attract qualified candidates to run for office. Pratt felt the town can be managed better in some ways, adding that’s not a reflection on any first selectman past or present. Pratt said he didn’t know whether paying more money would attract more qualified candidates, but he felt the position deserves more money.

Board of Finance Vice Chairman Marc Bronn said it’s difficult for someone who doesn’t have a pension already to leave their job and take a risk on a position they may only have for two years for $48,000 a year.

“A lot of the candidates would just never even consider that,” he said.

If the salary is increased, he said, it might get other people to consider running.

“I think it opens the door to a wider pool of candidates,” Bronn said.

The first selectman position is considered part-time, and someone who has a full-time job isn’t precluded from running for the office.

First Selectman Christopher Bielik, who was first elected to the position in 2013, said he probably spends about 60 hours a week on the job, including time in the office, at meetings and at civic events.

“I don’t think that overstates it, because you’re always on,” Bielik said.

Bielik, who didn’t advocate for more money for the position, said the job is what someone wants to put into it.

“My thought on it is, you know what the job takes. If you want to do the job and you are willing to do it no matter what it pays, you raise your hand and you give it a shot,” he said.

Finance board member Kyle Brennan said increasing the salary may attract more candidates, but he felt it’s about lining up with what the position does and should do.

Information provided by the finance department showed that out of 24 towns with a population between 5,000 and 10,000 and a first selectman, Beacon Falls pays the third lowest first selectman salary. Three of the 24 towns have a town administrator along with a first selectman, and five have less people than Beacon Falls.

The salaries ranged from $11,716 for the first selectman in Columbia, which has a town administrator, to $117,390 for the first selectman in Redding, which has about 3,000 more people than Beacon Falls.

Finance board members were considering increasing the first selectman salary to $60,000, but officials settled on $55,000 to avoid a larger jump. Pratt suggested the town implement a schedule with incremental raises to avoid large spikes in the future.

The finance board also approved increasing the salaries for the two selectman positons from $12,000 to $13,500. The treasurer position’s salary was increased to $13,500, while officials agreed to increase the salary for the town clerk, which also is paid a small percentage of the fees the office collects, from $4,800 to $6,000.

Any salary increases for elected officials would take effect after the November election.

The Board of Finance held another budget workshop on Monday. Once the finance board adopts a budget it will go to the Board of Selectmen for approval to send to a hearing and a vote.