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Councilman works for board, board works for town

Serving on a municipal board is bound to be stressful now and then — that’s understandable. For our local town boards, that may be especially true at this time of year as it’s budget season, and putting together a fiscal plan for an entire town is no easy task.

The councilmen and women elected to flesh out a budget under the guidance of the town supervisor and the budget officer face difficult decision after difficult decision. There are departments to fund, services to finance and programs to back. There is also insurance, health care and retirement to provide. Additionally, there are salaries to approve.

Salaries are never easy, because very often towns want to pay their workers more without burdening taxpayers — a conundrum that never fails to confuse.

In some instances money has already been set aside to budget for salaries, such as in past deputy supervisors’ stipends in the town of North East. However, in 2012 Deputy Supervisor and town Councilman Steven Merwin declined to accept the extra $2,000 pay (which was knocked down from $2,600 the year before after Merwin’s insistence). At that time money already existed in the budget to pay for that salary — dog-eared for the deputy supervisor.

So for 2013, Merwin decided the deputy supervisor’s pay might as well be made use of, but not just by himself. In an act of true fellowship, Merwin proposed dividing that stipend equally among the four councilmen, calling it the only “fair” solution.

“Everybody does the same amount of work,” he said. “It was unnecessary for one person to get that much and the other three not to.”

A true egalitarian, Merwin clearly practices what he preaches, and does his best to ensure fair conditions for his colleagues just as he has for others working for the town (for full budget story turn to Page A3).

The fact some have latched on to his efforts as something to attack, claiming the North East Town Board is now seeking to give itself a 10 percent raise, is really taking the situation out of context. It is, in fact, nonsense.

The board is not creating a new financial situation (i.e. giving itself a raise). It, or rather Merwin, simply took an existing situation (a $2,000 stipend) and reallocated it differently, and more fairly, among itself. And for what it’s worth, it was a job well done.

Merwin acted generously, fairly and openly as a representative of the town; he has shown that he possesses the altruistic streak one would hope for in an elected official. That being the case, Councilman Merwin fits in just perfectly with the rest of the North East Town Board, which has proven time and again to be a true steward of the community — willing to cooperate internally to ensure that all will function optimally, externally.