Public service pays, sort of

We all know that it takes a certain something to run for, or serve in, public office. Frequently criticized, often taken for granted and seldom fully compensated for their work, public officials don’t always have an easy go of it.

They do, of course, receive some pay — meager as it is — for their efforts. In towns throughout the Harlem Valley, that compensation is typically pretty low. Just take a look at our salary chart on Page A1 to get an idea of what some of our elected and appointed officials make in Amenia, Millbrook, Millerton, North East, Pine Plains and Washington.

Town supervisors’ and mayoral salaries range from $6,255 to $23,776. Councilperson and trustee positions pay from $4,377 to $5,873. Highway superintendent salaries — usually the highest for most municipalities — range from $51,088 to $59,366.

All told, our officials, charged with myriad responsibilities and decisions that affect thousands and thousands of people, don’t make a heck of a lot of money. For the hours they put in — behind the scenes, in front of the community and everything in between — it’s clear they don’t do it for the pay.

On top of the work, there’s the stress of dealing with the public. There’s the weight of knowing a single decision will impact a town’s or village’s wellbeing for years to come. There’s the difficulty in working with both sides of the aisle in what has become an increasingly polarized society.

So, why, then, do our local officials persevere? 

It stands to reason that those who serve do so for reasons beyond the financial. They’re altruistic and have a sense of hope for the future; they feel a call to duty to serve their community. 

Whatever motivates our officials, whether elected or appointed, we’re just glad there are those willing to step up to the plate. Serving the public takes skill, rigorous training and lots of practice. It also takes having a thick skin. Mostly, though, it takes insight and a sense of equity. We’re pleased to report that our public officials here in the Harlem Valley do a pretty good job of it.

Though it’s tough to compensate our elected and appointed officials to the extent they might deserve without causing a hardship on taxpayers, we hope they’re satisfied. Because besides earning their pay, those who govern fairly and serve justly have also earned the respect and trust of their constituents. And accomplishing that is worth a lot.