It is the elephant in the room that has been ignored by current city leaders for the last three weeks.
On Oct. 12, city Mayor Anthony J. Dolce proposed his nearly $22 million budget, which included a tax increase and water rate hike. In announcing his plan to the public, Dolce on that day sounded like a county official. He found excuses for the proposed tax increase in a reduction on the payment in lieu of taxes agreement with NRG and the mandated increases.
Mandated increases? Not at all.
What the mayor was referring to was the salary and benefit increases of Dunkirk employees, all approved by the city leaders from recent years including Dolce, who gave his stamp of approval as a council member.
For the record, those contracts are not mandates from the state. They are locally negotiated deals for pay and benefits.
And let me tell you, the salaries and benefits in this city government that represents 12,500 residents are out of whack.
Way out of whack.
According to seethroughny.net in its latest breakdown of wages, Dunkirk has a total payroll of $8,688,729 for 2012. Included in those salaries is one police officer - not the chief - who earns $101,109.
Here are the other breakdowns for those earning:
$90,000 to $99,999 - four employees.
$80,000 to $89,999 - 19 employees.
$70,000 to $79,999 - 26 employees.
$60,000 to $69,999 - 29 employees.
$50,000 to $59,999 - 21 employees.
$40,000 to $49,999 - 29 employees.
$30,000 to $39,999 - five employees.
$29,999 and under - 21 employees.
That makes the median salary in the city - employee number 78 - $60,403. Quite a difference from the median income in the county, which hovers around $36,000.
To look at it another way, 100 employees- or 65 percent of the work force - earns more than $50,000.
Those figures put the average salary for each city employee at $56,056. Add in benefits - health insurance and pension costs - to the salaries of nearly $8.7 million, and the total compensation for the city employees costs taxpayers $12,598,657 - an average of $81,129 per employee.
It's been said here before, but we will say it again. These compensation figures for a city in decline - in terms of population and economy - are not sustainable.
In the meantime, the mayor and council members have refused to address or talk about these salary issues in the last 10 months. They have yet to do so - as well - in this budget.
While members look to cut the scraps, including the costs of equipment, the library and city events the community participates in, they are not cutting the costs of its work force, which makes up 59 percent of its budget.
So, as area residents cope with tough economic times and industries and businesses teeter on closing and reduce its employee numbers, city officials do nothing about the cost of government except take away events, services and cultural items from the taxpayers who pay the bill.
Those takeaways, however, are minuscule sands on a beach. The big numbers - the tidal wave - continues to be sacred and not discussed. That is the total compensation.
Why are people and businesses leaving the city? Because it is nearly impossible to earn - on average - what city workers are costing taxpayers.
Elephant in the room? You bet. Mandated by the state? Absolutely not.
Local leaders have ignored, approved and been part of the problem for too many years.
This council and mayor are no different. Right now these six are doing nothing except following in those faulty, destructible footsteps of past leaders and administrations they keep blaming and criticizing.
John D'Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to email@example.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.