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Harrietstown Town Board passes 2024 budget after debate over additional compensation for supervisor

Harrietstown Town Hall
Pat Bradley
Harrietstown Town Hall (file)

The Town of Harrietstown, which includes the village of Saranac Lake, has been debating its proposed 2024 budget. Passage has been delayed by a provision that would raise the Town Supervisor’s salary by $20,000 for work she is doing at the airport.

Thursday’s meeting began with a public forum and town resident Elias Pelletieri immediately raised several concerns about the proposal to pay Supervisor Jordanna Mallach extra.

“I’m very concerned with the new job position, or raise, however it’s being worded for the supervisor to actually take on what I feel should probably be another person’s job," said Pelletieri. "I think this position should be advertised. I think Civil Service should be approached and checked with. And I think if the money is going to be spent at the airport it should be listed under the airport budget. And I also in my opinion it’s a potential conflict. Can an elected official actually hire themselves in the same municipality that they’re working for? If you check with an attorney or the state to see if that is possible.”

As the board took up line-item budget changes, several potential motions were discussed regarding the $20,000 raise. Councilperson John Williams said there should be a better defined process and was briefly interrupted by Supervisor Mallach.

“While we made this move to allocate this money, I think with good intention," noted Williams, "it was a little bit cart before the horse in my opinion. I think there should have been an outreach to our legal representation because that’s what they’re paid for. I don’t think there’s any precedent necessarily for something of this nature.”

“Actually there’s a huge amount of precedent because every budget that’s ever passed includes the salary of elected officials.” Mallach told him.

“That’s not what I’m speaking to specifically," Williams replied. "What I’m speaking to is an elected official taking on added responsibilities at an added cost. Folks are not only upset because it’s a dollars and cents thing and the optics aren’t necessarily favorable but also because folks believe that we should make a job description, we advertise it and we go about it that way.”

Williams moved to strike the $20,000 increase in the supervisor’s compensation from the 2024 budget.

Councilperson Jeff Denkenberger agreed with the move.

“The public comment that we’ve had has brought to light some potential legal issues and I agree that we should, not that this can’t happen down the road, but I feel that we should have done more due diligence and figure out what we need for a job description and move forward in just a different way that we did," said Denkenberger.

Councilwoman Ashley Milne said while the raise may be merited, the board did not approach the proposal properly.

“We are giving her more compensation for doing more work," said Milne. "I agree with that. But unfortunately, and by the way she is underpaid, but we went about this wrong in how to get this added compensation.”

Supervisor Mallach and Councilman Williams again bickered later in the debate.

“Given the issues we had last year with the budget this is going to look like a raise," said Williams, "and to protect us and our supervisor and the sanctity of this board we need to get ahead of the public perception and we need to say this is what this money is for and this is the job description. And by the way we need to check with legal. And we didn’t do that stuff.”

“Johnny why don’t you trust me enough,” Mallach started to ask.

Williams retorted, “You can’t internalize this.”

“Who else is to blame besides me?” asked Mallach.

“It’s not about you, Jordanna,” Williams asserted.

“It’s 100 percent about me,” Mallach replied.

“No it’s not and that’s the issue here," said Williams. "Because you’re taking it personally and it’s not a personal thing. This is not a value judgement call on you.”

The motion to remove the $20,000 increase in compensation from the budget passed 3 to 1 with one abstention. A proposal to add $10,000 to a contingency fund was approved by the board. The Harrietstown board then passed the 2024 budget.