Critics say NJ mayor wants 647% pay raise to pad his pension for life
💵 The Wayne mayor's position has been part-time with a current salary of $18,750
💵 Officials now want to make it full-time with a much higher salary
💵 Critics include Democratic and Republican members of the council
WAYNE — While virtually no one questioned his track record, a proposed massive salary bump for the township mayor — by making the job full-time — did spark a good deal of concerns Wednesday.
Among those skeptical of the ordinance questioned whether the more than extra $120,000 or so a year would be better spent elsewhere, on behalf of Wayne taxpayers, while many also questioned making the change without proper review.
Wayne Mayor Chris Vergano has begun his 4th term in office, after winning overwhelming re-election in 2021.
When the ordinance came up at Wednesday's session, Vergano shared reasons for why his municipal post should be extended.
Among goals, he said he would like to put more time into economic development, getting businesses back to Wayne and improving technology for the town.
Councilwoman Fran Ritter, the only Democrat on the council, spoke up against the plan, saying that while she liked Mayor Vergano, her job continued to be looking out for the best interests of the township.
She was ultimately joined by two Republican council members, Joseph Scuralli and Al Sadowski, in voting against the ordinance on the first reading.
Ritter said that when Vergano ran for his 4th term, he knew the position was part-time with a salary of $18,750 — and that residents of Wayne should be able to react to the proposed change.
“For those who do not know, the public pension system looks back at a public employees’ last three years salary history to determine their pension benefits for life which means that for this mayor he’d be receiving thousands more per month in pension benefits for only paying into the pension system for three years of full-time service at $140,000,” Ritter continued.
She also said the expense would amount closer to $200,000 a year, after health insurance, social security and pension.
“If we really have an additional $200,000 to allocate, I would sooner see this money allocated as a stipend for flexible healthcare benefits for each of our volunteer Fire Department and First Aid Squad members which will further incentivize the volunteerism that Wayne was built on,” Ritter said.
“We will need more of these volunteers to keep our residents safe as our population grows. What we don’t need in this Town are career politicians,” she added.
Roughly a dozen private citizens spoke during the public comment section, voicing concerns over such a change without input from local residents.
At least one person who spoke leaned toward supporting the idea of making the post full-time.
Michael Gottesman, longtime Wayne resident, was the first to speak during the public session. He said the township already has a full time business administrator who earns “almost $200,000 a year, who was hired by this mayor to handle the day to day aspects” of running the town.
Gottesman said it really appeared that the proposal was a “chance to give the mayor a ‘golden parachute’ of $420,000 over the next 3 years on the backs of the taxpayers” — along with tens of thousands of dollars more in annual pension payments upon retirement.
Catherine Kazan, a current member of the Wayne Township Board of Education, also spoke at Wednesday’s town council meeting.
She asked whether adding a Deputy Mayor position and maintaining both as part-time roles, might be a more cost-effective way of handling such town operations.
An online petition also has been started, supporting the idea of such a matter not being settled through amended ordinance but instead by voter referendum.
During the discussion among council members, it was suggested that a council committee be created to do research.
The ordinance could be up for a final vote on Jan. 18 at the next township council meeting.
If it were to pass, Wayne (with roughly 54,000 residents) would join some of the state's least populated municipalities in which the mayor earns a six-figure salary for that position.
The smallest currently appeared to be Carteret, with a population of just over 25,000, where the mayor earned roughly $122,000 in 2021.
Linden's mayor earns at least $100,000, for leading the city of roughly 43,000, based on a 2018 ordinance.
Hoboken, which has under 59,000 residents, currently pays its mayor $117,000.
Under an ordinance passed over a year ago, that salary was set to increase after the 2025 election to $130,000, according to Hudson Reporter.