Mayor’s salary debate may lead to shift in Vernon government

VERNON. The Vernon Township Council said it sees the need to raise the mayor’s stagnant salary, but wonders if the town would be better off with a pre-2011 governing system.

Vernon /
| 20 Jun 2022 | 03:39

A conversation on June 13 about increasing the salary paid to Vernon Township’s mayor turned into a deliberation on whether it may be better to change the township’s form of government for the second time in 11 years.

Councilman Mike Furrey, who in 2010 and 2011 was in favor of keeping the previous “strong council-weak mayor” form of government, said he wanted to start the conversation of increasing the mayor’s salary as a way to attract good candidates.

“I don’t necessarily have a dollar amount in mind, but at least we should get the discussion started,” Furrey said.

Vernon Township’s mayor is paid an annual salary of $30,000 per year since the current “strong mayor” government structure was implemented in 2011.

The Township Council has approved three raises for the mayor since then, but none of them had stuck.

The first time was in 2012 when then-Mayor Victor Marotta requested a raise from $30,000 to $50,000. After the raise was approved, 87 percent of voters overturned the ordinance after a successful petition drive to place the issue on the ballot in the general election.

Marotta, again, requested a raise in 2014 to $70,000, but he later rescinded the request after the Vernon Taxpayers Association launched a successful petition drive to put the issue on the ballot for the second time in three years.

Then in 2015, the council approved an increase to $36,000, but that was overturned as well.

The last time the mayor’s raise went in front of a judge, it was not determined whether the position was part- or full-time, but the judge allowed the mayor to receive full-time medical, dental and vision benefits.

Councilman and former Mayor Harry Shortway said a $30,000 annual salary with no raise for 11 years is not reasonable.

Shortway said most municipalities that have governments like Vernon are much larger, and referenced Parsippany’s mayor, which makes about $100,000 per year.

Councilman Brian Lynch said he was uncomfortable discussing it.

“These are unreasonably stressful economic times right now,” Lynch said. “Starting the conversation is one thing, and I get what you’re saying. I would much rather move toward changing our form of government back to the way it was as opposed to having a ‘strong mayor’ form of government.’”

Furrey called changing the government back to the way it was before 2011 a reasonable alternative to raising the mayor’s salary.

“That may be a better alternative than to go down the path of raising the salary,” Furrey said.

Council President Patrick Rizzuto said this conversation could be a good opportunity for people who pushed for the change 11 years ago to assess if they’re happy with the results. He said he didn’t believe the council could put that up to a vote.

“I think the council is given a particular form of government to serve under,” Rizzuto said. “If it changes, then we will change with it. If not, we continue forward, but I think it requires the initiative of the people to go ahead and make this change.”