One month after being sworn into office, Westhampton Beach Mayor Maria Moore now is just one step away from doubling her salary after the Village Board altered village law and approved a budget transfer during its meeting last Thursday evening, August 7.
The board also signed off on a severance pay package for former Westhampton Beach Police Chief Ray Dean, who left the position at the end of June after nearly 15 years, authorizing Ms. Moore to approve a one-time payment of more than $400,000 to the longtime head of the village’s police department.
Both items were approved unanimously during the meeting held at Westhampton Beach Village Hall on Mill Road.
Ms. Moore’s salary is set to increase from $12,562 to $25,124 next month, but that is subject to a permissive referendum, meaning a petition with signatures from at least 20 percent of registered voters in the village could block the resolution.
“I thought it was appropriate to restore the salary to what it was previously—it was put to a vote and the trustees agreed,” Ms. Moore said on Tuesday morning. “If the community doesn’t agree with what happened at the meeting, they have the ability to file a petition within the next 30 days. I thought that was a fair way to handle it.”
Assuming that a petition is not submitted to the village, Ms. Moore’s salary will be on par with the starting pay of her predecessor, Conrad Teller. During a round of budget cuts in 2010, Mr. Teller voluntarily cut his pay nearly in half, from $24,930.71 to $12,568.94.
Ms. Moore has sought to have her salary increased since before she entered office as she began exploring the logistics shortly after defeating Mr. Teller in the June election. She found that not only had her salary been set in the village’s $9.76 million budget for 2014-15, but even that was higher than it legally should have been as a long-forgotten village law from 1986 set the mayor’s salary at $11,000, meaning that both Mr. Teller and his predecessor, Robert Strebel, who increased his pay to $22,000 in 2001, were technically in violation of village code.
Last Thursday night, the board repealed Chapter 35 of the village code, which set the mayor’s salary at $11,000 flat. The board also passed a resolution reallocating excess funds from the village’s contingency account to make up the difference in Ms. Moore’s salary for this year, while also resolving to set the mayor’s pay annually in the village budget—which has long been the protocol both in Westhampton Beach and throughout New York State, albeit technically against village code.
“That’s a big position, and she’s already realizing it—she spends a lot of time working,” Village Trustee Hank Tucker said of the new mayor. “Ten cents an hour is probably what it worked out to before, and I didn’t do the math, but now it’s probably, like, 25 cents an hour.
“I don’t think that position is something someone does for the money,” he continued. “That would just be bizarre.”
Trustee Patricia DiBenedetto said Ms. Moore should not have to collect lower pay simply because Mr. Teller did. “Conrad Teller’s decision to cut his own salary was an individual decision and should have no impact on mayors that come after him or mayors that came before him,” she said.
To the chagrin of a handful of meeting attendees who let out gasps of surprise, the board authorized the payment of $403,714.28, minus taxes and other withholding, to Mr. Dean for all of the unused sick, personal and vacation days he accrued over the past 15 years.
The amount being paid to Mr. Dean is based on his per diem pay rate of about $722, Westhampton Beach Treasurer and Clerk Elizabeth Lindtvit said Tuesday, declining to say how many days Mr. Dean was owed. At that rate, Mr. Dean was owed for roughly 559 days—or approximately 37 unused days a year over the course of his career.
“As far as we’re concerned, the only figure we’re going to release is the total we’re paying him,” Ms. Lindtvit said after consulting Ms. Moore. “I just don’t think people need to know how many sick days, personal days and vacation days he had.”
Such information is part of the public record, and the village did not immediately respond to a Freedom of Information Act request seeking a breakdown of unused sick, personal and vacation days owed Mr. Dean.
Mr. Dean could not be reached for comment this week.
Ms. DiBenedetto, who explained that the amount paid is determined by Mr. Dean’s salary and was confirmed by a labor attorney, said no one should have been surprised by the total amount owed to him. Mr. Dean, who retired in the final year of his five-and-a-half-year contract, was set to make $167,507 for 2014-15.
“People who have moans and groans, it shows that they are uninformed and they haven’t been coming to meetings,” she said.