Saugatuck Township Supervisor Pay Hot Topic At Recent Budget Hearing
As Saugatuck Township approved its budget and the November General Election campaign is underway, more people—including other residents and candidates to the position—have joined the heated debate over whether or not the person acting as Saugatuck Township supervisor ought to be compensated $17,000-plus a year for that position.
The quarrel was played out at last Wednesday’s Saugatuck Township Board meeting, as the board held its 2016-17 budget hearing, with a total requested budget at $741,192.
The supervisor salary was “open for debate,” said Saugatuck Trustee Roy McIlwaine during the budget hearing.
Saugatuck Township Clerk Brad Rudich concurred and proposed a $100 per diem (per meeting) payment for the job instead of the current salary, but he and McIIwaine were out-voted by colleagues on a motion proposing that very action following heated discussion.
“Let’s reset it to zero—the supervisor duty has changed dramatically,” said McIIwaine.
Current Saugatuck Township Supervisor Bill Wester, who wouldn’t have been affected by any change either way because he is not seeking re-election for his expired term in November, took umbrage at the suggestion.
Turning to colleague Saugatuck Township Clerk Lori Babinski for her approval and confirmation, Wester noted, “How many days of the week during the McClendon thing (referring to past years of long legal wrangling between the township and the late natural gas magnate Aubrey McClendon) was I here in the township office. I would say four, five days.”
“But that has changed, Bill,” responded McIIwaine. “My feeling is that if things change where the township faces another (big) lawsuit, now we have a full-time manager to get involved.”
McIIwaine was referring to the township’s hiring of its first manager, Phil Quade, back in January 2001, arguing the manager now handles many of the responsibilities the supervisor did in the past.
It is an argument Saugatuck Township resident Cheryl Giller has previously shared in her May 23 letter to the township board.
However, since then other residents have come forth in support of the salaried position.
For those calling for a change, the compensation is too much for too little work—a position with a role that changed when it hired a township manager 15 years ago, but the salary remained the same although there was less administrative responsibility.
Those arguing against any reduction to the annual salary say the township can attract quality staff and board members to operate the township with the current—or even higher—compensation.
Their arguments also partly hinge on timing: they say it is the wrong time because it is in the middle of the campaign season and it would be unfair to make any changes to the supervisor’s role, including salary, at this moment for those three candidates that have already filed their petition (paperwork was due April 19) vying for the Saugatuck Township Supervisor seat.
The only contested seat for the township board is that of supervisor, and Wester is not one of them.
The three candidates for supervisor includes current Saugatuck Township Board Member Jon Phillips, Republican; current township liaison to the Kalamazoo Lake Harbor Authority Jon Helmrich, Democrat; and Randy Brink, Republican.
“The timing (to discuss the supervisor salary) seems very spurious,” noted Helmrich, present at the meeting.
He was joined by other proponents of the salary, including township resident James Cook.
“The Saugatuck Township Board is weighing the idea of reducing the salary of the township supervisor. As a taxpayer I appreciate fiscal responsibility, but I also know you don’t attract good people by underpaying them,” Cook wrote in a June 1 letter to the township board, also reiterating his points at the meeting last Wednesday.
“The supervisor is an important role; largely defined by the office holder. Why would we want to minimize the appeal of any township position when we should be seeking the best leadership we can get?”