Assembly Of Delegates Turns Down Raises For Itself
By: Michael C. Bailey
The Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates has chosen to forgo what some members viewed as a well-deserved raise in their annual stipend.
The assembly last month took up an ordinance filed by Ronald J. Bergstrom, Chatham’s delegate and speaker of the assembly, to increase their stipends from $500 a year to $1,500, but the county body tabled a vote to seek a legal opinion on whether a vote was in fact necessary.
The crux of the first debate was over how the assembly, as part of its Fiscal Year 2010 budget deliberations, reduced its pay in the first place. Faced with a lean FY10 budget, the assembly last year opted to reduce the stipend line item by half, thus reducing their annual stipend from $1,000 a year to $500, but many members did so expecting that all they needed to do reverse that move was fully fund the line item.
Thomas K. Lynch of Barnstable—who was among the delegates who thought the reduction was temporary—recommended seeking an opinion from Robert S. Troy, the county’s legal counsel, to clarify whether language in the county charter in fact required the assembly to formally approve restoring the stipend to its full amount, regardless of the conditions under which it was lowered. The charter explicitly states that raises must be approved by a vote of the assembly, but there was doubt as to whether it applied here.
Mr. Troy filed a written statement with the assembly last Tuesday stating that because the stipend amount was not lowered through a full ordinance process, merely under-funded in the FY10 budget, it could be returned to the full $1,000 per delegate per year amount simply by restoring the funding.
The discussion then turned to whether the assembly should give itself its first-ever raise in its 20-year history. Mr. Bergstrom presented his findings on what town governments on Cape Cod offer as stipends to its elected legislative branch members, and said the range was as low as $1,000 a year and as high as $3,500.
Mr. Bergstrom also argued that if the assembly had increased its stipend annually by two percent, the delegates would currently receive $1,485 a year -- only $15 shy of the amount proposed by Mr. Bergstrom.
Mr. Lynch, along with Marcia R. King and Thomas F. Keyes, the delegates from Mashpee and Sandwich respectively, both opposed raising the stipend in light of the fact the county is still facing a fiscal crisis.
“This year, it’s a devastating budget year,” Mr. Keyes said, and forecasts indicate that FY12 “will be even worse.”
Mr. Lynch noted that many Cape towns are facing townwide layoffs, including in the schools, and said it wasn’t the right time for the assembly to increase its own pay.
“I think $1,000 is more than enough,” Ms. King said.
Leo G. Cakounes of Harwich disagreed, and he pointed out that the delegates were basically volunteers who sacrificed their own income to serve the county, and should receive something to compensate for that loss. “It’s a good expenditure of county money,” he said, calling the $7,500 needed to fund a $500-per-delegate increase “peanuts.”
The assembly defeated the proposal in a weighted vote of 70.58 percent to 28.18 percent. Mr. Keyes, Ms. King, Mr. Lynch, and Richard J. Anderson of Bourne voted against the raise, and Julia C. Taylor of Falmouth voted for it.
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