Members of the Dunkirk Housing Authority's board of directors will have a little more money to spend as a result of a vote Tuesday by the Common Council. In a 3-2 decision, council approved a resolution that restores a meeting stipend eliminated in the city's 2013 budget.
While nobody used the word, it seemed that some lobbying made the difference in convincing the resolution's supporters, councilmen Michael Michalski, William J. Rivera and Adelino Gonzalez, to make the change. Councilwomen Stephanie Kiyak and Stacy Szukala provided the no votes on the resolution that restored the $40 per meeting payment for the chairman and treasurer, along with $30 for each of the other four members.
Prior to the vote, Kiyak asked if any member cared to comment on the resolution that would take $2,760 from the Fund I contingency line to pay the DHA board.
OBSERVER Photo by Gib Snyder
From left: Councilmen Michael Michalski, William J. Rivera and Adelino Gonzalez look on as councilwoman Stacy Szukala explains her reasoning for voting no on a resolution restoring meeting stipend payments to members of the Dunkirk Housing Authority’s board of directors.
Szukala began by saying council had a lot of discussion about the payments and she had not been able to find the basis for the city to provide the funding for the DHA board or the other three city boards which receive stipends.
That finding was echoed by all the council members. Szukala added the city has a possible HUD payback, the seawall repairs and an aging vehicle fleet to consider. She cited Rivera's quote from November when he called for city departments along with council to "toe the line."
"I'm not really sure what happened to change your mind, $3,000 is no small price tag when it comes to all the other things we have to do," she stated. " ... For me, this is not a wise use of taxpayer dollars and I will be voting no tonight."
Rivera was next and said it wasn't an easy decision and recalled that in November council thought the DHA board could pay themselves, something that was not the case. He added he couldn't come up with a good reason why just the DHA board was cut.
"In a perfect world I would like to make it so every board got paid. ... Unfortunately we don't live in that kind of world, it is what it is," Rivera stated before adding the 2012 budget numbers are in the black for two of the three funds and the third should be "in pretty decent shape."
"I'm voting for the reinstatement of the housing authority stipend. .... If at the end of this year the city is in bad enough position where it becomes something we need to look at again, I won't just look at the housing authority's, I will look at every board that we pay."
Michalski was direct in his reasoning for voting yes, a letter from DHA Board Chairman Jim Sheedy. Michalski said the letter listed some of the board's responsibilities, including setting pay and policy, hiring, property acquisition, overseeing assets in millions and an operating budget in excess of $1 million, along with spending tens of thousands of dollars locally.
"For me this comes down to their scope of responsibility. I'm not trying to pit one board against another, but I think there is a little bit more responsibility there," Michalski said. " ... I don't think there are too many boards out there that are performing these types of duties."
Gonzalez said he had served on the DHA board for over 14 years at $10 a meeting.
"It is a difficult board to be on, it has a lot of responsibilities ... I think in this case with all the benefits we get back from the housing authority I think it warrants for them to keep their stipend," he stated. "Yes, we would like them to pay their own stipend, but according to legal issues they can't do that. So that's why I'm voting yes."
Szukala stated all council was doing was setting a precedent that others unsatisfied at budget time could come back later for more money.
Kiyak said she was voting no due to what the city may need money for.
"We're facing repayment of potential hundreds of thousands of dollars to HUD of misappropriated CDBG funds during the last four years of prior administration," she stated. "We will need to rely on every extra penny in the budget when and if this happens."
After the meeting Gonzalez was asked if the DHA board lobbied to get the stipend reinstated.
"They didn't lobby, they were concerned," he replied. "They wanted to know why it was and why we did it. We explained to them we were looking to see where in the City Charter it stated that they get paid, or what resolution was there. ... They stated that based on the situation it would be past practices, which is the reason we're doing it. It's been done for 40 years and we feel, at least some of us feel, that they deserve the stipend for what they do."
Mayor Anthony J. Dolce had previously stated he would not veto the resolution and said he would stick by that statement.
"I will add that I respect all of council's opinion. I think both sides made a great case for their side, but I know council has thought about this thoroughly and I respect their final vote," he added.
After the meeting Kiyak said all boards were important but she never got an answer as to why any were paid.
"Are they going to leave the board if they're not getting a stipend?" she asked. "Then that's not really the definition of volunteering and performing a service for your community first before your own private gain. ... The reasons that the three councilmen gave for keeping the stipend, or reinstating the stipend, that's their own logic. It doesn't make logical sense to me."
Kiyak added there was no discussion on reducing the stipend.
"The mayor was all for putting the stipend back in. He told me a month ago or so that he was looking into reinstating the stipend. At that time I thought that the entire council was seeing it from my point of view and I told the mayor that we would not pass that resolution if it should come up.," she continued. "Lo and behold, three council members thought the same way as the mayor."
Council also passed a resolution authorizing Dolce to sign a one-year lease agreement for $3,900 with Erika Finamore to operate Yummy's ice cream at the Boardwalk Market. Rivera cast the lone no vote, saying he wanted an operation that would stay open all year.
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