Over the objections of just one outraged resident, the all Republican Berkeley Township Council voted to give the commissioners of the Berkeley Township Municipal Utilities Authority and the Berkeley Sewerage Authority permission to drastically increase the compensation received by politically appointed board members.
As first reported by Ocean County Politics, the township council held a public hearing Monday night on an ordinance that empowered the two independent authorities charged with operating the township’s water and sewer system to double the limit of compensation received by politically appointed commissioners, most of which are “friends and family” of local GOP power brokers. The main job of the commissioners is showing up to once-monthly board meetings of the two authorities, which roughly amount to about 1 hour per month for the current $2500 stipend, which could increase to $5000 under this ordinance.
Just one dismayed resident spoke out against the increase at the meeting. Laura Wheeler-Shaw of Bayville asked the council members to provide justification for the raise, but they demurred, leaving attorney Lauren Staiger to respond with what could only be construed as a non-denial denial.
Ms. Staiger conceded that the now-adopted ordinance will allow the MUA and Sewerage Authority commissioners to vote themselves a substantial raise, but how much it will be is ultimately up to the boards of those two independent authorities. She was correct in stating that state law allows the governing body of the township to establish the “framework” for the municipal utilities authority, however any change in compensation is wholly at the discretion of the township council.
The township can set the maximum cap for the salaries of the commissioners, which in this case was just doubled.
Ms. Wheeler-Shaw pleaded with the township council to abandon the proposal, instead asking that they “…do the right thing by the ratepayers of Berkeley Township” and leave current levels of compensation as they were.
She further ripped the increase, stating:
“For this small group of people to receive this compensation is excessive, extreme and unearned.”
Berkeley Township Administrator John Camera, who recently took over the top job in town hall after the departure of Lacey Township’s Chris Reid for a patronage position in his hometown, saw it differently. “Those boards control rather large businesses in a very efficient way.”
Mr. Camera joined with Staiger’s sentiment, supporting the increase and claiming that in addition to showing up for one monthly meeting, that the politically appointed board members have done “…things to prove that they could certainly earn that [$5000].”
Resident Vows To Fight Salary Doubling
Wheeler-Shaw continued, expressing her “extreme disappointment” in the move to permit the board members to double their compensation. She noted that no other appointed boards, such as the school board receive any compensation for the work that they do. Not satisfied with the justification township officials provided, the concerned resident stated her intention to gather signatures for a ballot initiative to put the brakes on future salary hikes for the appointed commissioners.
By the time the council was ready to vote on the ordinance, the room was nearly empty and nobody spoke before the council took the vote. (Ms. Wheeler-Shaw spoke during the public comment portion of the open caucus meeting, while the final vote took place during the official meeting directly following the open caucus.)
Without anything being said on this agenda item by the council members or Mayor Carmen Amato, the ordinance passed unanimously .
Our question is this: if as the township attorney claims, no salary increase has happened in 20 years, and they are also of the belief that the MUA and sewer authority boards have no plans to raise the salaries, then why should the council double the limit?
We can only predict that the BTMUA and BTSA will likely follow suit and finalize the increase, now that they have the authority to do so.