HOWELL – With a close vote, the Howell Township Council members have adopted a $54.84 million budget for 2021. The new budget includes a possible 60 percent pay increase for council members.
At a recent Township Council meeting, a public hearing was held on the budget and many residents expressed their opinions on an increase in the five council members’ salary ranges from $7,500 to $12,000. Taxpayers currently pay $37,500 for the total of all five salaries, and it could potentially increase to $60,000.
When a motion was made to adopt the budget, Mayor Theresa Berger, Councilwoman Pamela Richmond and Councilwoman Evelyn O’Donnell voted “no.” Deputy Mayor Thomas Russo and Councilman John Bonevich voted “yes.” The motion failed 3-2 and subsequently the budget was not adopted.
Berger said that she voted no because of the issue surrounding the salaries for the council members.
“I want to discuss why I voted ‘no’ and it was for the reason of salary. I agree with the citizens. I think it needs to be done in a more logical way, a more reasonable way,” Berger said.
Township Manager Brian Geoghegan explained that the budget does not give council members an automatic salary raise, as that has to be done separately by a salary ordinance. The members then have the right to either refuse or take a lesser salary than what was offered.
“To my understanding, this budget does not release any funds to council stipends. It just allows the discussion; you would need an ordinance to actually release the funds. That is why I supported this budget. You can have the conversation about a raise at a later date,” Russo said.
A motion was then made to reconsider the issue and a second vote was made to adopt the budget. Berger, Russo and Bonevich voted “yes.” Richmond and O’Donnell voted “no.” The 3-2 vote in favor of the motion meant the 2021 budget was adopted.
The council members previously introduced the budget at their April 13 meeting.