VERNON — The Vernon Township Council approved a $6,000 raise for the mayor at Monday night's council meeting over opposition from the public regarding whether the mayor's position is full-time.
The ordinance passed by a 3-2 margin with Councilman Dan Kadish and Councilwoman Jean Murphy voting against the ordinance, which establishes the raise as retroactive to Jan. 1.
In defending the ordinance, Council President Patrick Rizzuto said the mayor's salary, which he estimated with the raise would be $14.40 per hour, is less than what is paid to the starting custodian at the schools.
Marotta was not present at Monday night's meeting.
This is the third time the council has approved a raise for the mayor. The first time was in 2012 when 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 Marotta, again, requested a raise in 2014 to $70,000, but he later rescinded the request after the Vernon Taxpayers Association launched a successful petition drive to put the issue on the ballot for the second time in three years. With the raise rescinded, the issue never went to the voters.
VTA President Sally Rinker said her organization will circulate petitions at the A&P Supermarket starting Wednesday and will remain until they have the necessary signatures to put the ordinance for a vote in November.
Most of the objection to the ordinance came not from the dollar amount in the raise, but to the clause that declared the mayor's position to be full-time, especially five months before the November mayoral election. Marotta has announced he will seek re-election. No other candidates have come forward yet.
"By all appearances, passage of this ordinance will validate the mayor's post as a full-time one," Highland Lakes resident Bonnie Rubin said. "This is not keeping with objectives of the Faulkner Act. This could dissaude candidates interested in a part-time position so that they continue in their present livelihood."
Murphy objected wording in the ordinance that "the compensation of $30,000 is insufficent remuneration for the Mayor's full-time service and is not comparable to compensation paid in Sussex County and northern New Jersey for executive and administrative services of this scope and responsibility."
Vernon is the only township in Sussex County to operate under the Mayor-Council form of government, which grants administrative power to the mayor.
"If you want to give him a raise, give him a raise, but all this information in here, talking about that it's not comparable compensation in Sussex County," Murphy said. "Maybe we should be looking at this compensation based on New Jersey. It just seems to be convenient to isolate this to Sussex County because we have no other townships in this county with this form of government."
Murphy said there are governments with the same form of government as Vernon in which the mayor puts in all necessary hours and only makes a stipend of $8,000 to $12,000 per year because they are public servants.
Township resident Gary Martinsen said now that the Mayor-Council form of government, established in 2011, has found its footing, it may not be necessary for the mayor to put in as many hours as he had in the past.
"This year we've been getting to the point where we've transitioned over," Martinsen said. "The mayor no longer attends meetings. He goes on vacation for weeks and the clerk can handle his job. He's taken vacations that are beyond what a full-time employee would have taken with more than a year or two in the job. There has been less required and now it truly isn't a full-time position."