Proposed 647% pay hike for mayor of NJ town faces uncertain fate
UPDATE 1/19: On Thursday night, the ordinance was withdrawn after a unanimous vote by the Wayne Township Council, 9-0.
WAYNE — A plan to give the township mayor a roughly 647% pay increase was at a crossroads ahead of a council meeting Wednesday night.
Wayne Township Mayor Christopher Vergano has successfully been elected four terms in a row since 2008 — as a part-time position.
Earlier this month, Vergano spoke at the town’s reorganization meeting about the ordinance to amend his office into a full-time post, with a salary of $140,000 as well as benefits and leave time “afforded to other full-time department head employees.”
It was then introduced by Wayne Township Councilman Jason DeStefano, “with the stipulation that we send it to our Finance and Administration Committee” — of which DeStefano is a member, along with Councilmembers David Varano, Richard Jasterzbski and Fran Ritter.
Within the following two weeks, the plan became a hot-button issue not just within Wayne but around the state, including the debate over whether such a change should include meaningful input from local taxpayers, such as by referendum.
Ahead of Wednesday’s town council meeting, Vergano requested the ordinance be pulled from the agenda.
Ritter, the only Democrat on the nine-member town council, urged residents not to “be misled.”
“While the Mayor now wants his Full-Time Mayor Ordinance pulled from tonight’s Council’s meeting agenda, that can only be accomplished by a majority vote of the Council. Effectively, this still leaves the Council with the authority to hold the public hearing and its final vote to approve the Mayor’s Full-Time Mayor Ordinance tonight,” Ritter said to New Jersey 101.5.
“And, if the Ordinance is pulled, it is unclear whether it will be proposed again in the future.”
DeStefano agreed with the idea of taking the “man out of the equation” and not focusing just on Vergano’s potential pension or health benefits when deciding whether the change would be right for the township.
“This is about Wayne’s future and what’s best for the taxpayers of Wayne, not just right now in the present but five mayors down the line,” he said.
DeStefano added he was bothered by some public attention on the current mayor’s medical history as a cancer survivor, saying “it played no role in a decision factor.”
“Going down that route is just uncalled for, because at the end of the day we all have a decision to make — and that’s make the best decision for the township,” DeStefano continued, saying he felt that "everyone on the council" regardless of political party genuinely cared about Wayne.
In an anecdotal, “snap” survey online by TAPinto Wayne, 87% of more than 500 respondents disagreed with the plan to convert the position into a pricier, full-time job.
An online petition that supported putting the mayoral issue on a ballot for voter input also drew roughly 750 signatures.