Councilman Andre Sayegh blasted mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ administration on Wednesday night for giving $15,000 pay increase to former mayoral candidate Lydia Robles — who dropped out of the 2014 mayoral race to endorse Torres — as the municipality struggles with its finances.
Robles was hired in October 2014 at $45,000 salary. Her salary is now $60,000, according to payroll records. I was “aghast” when I read an individual hired as an internal auditor is now an assistant budget officer with $15,000 raise in less than two years, said Sayegh.
“I don’t know how you can justify that in the current climate,” said Sayegh. “Do we even need an assistant budget officer?”
“She has not only taken on her responsibilities, but has gone well and beyond it,” responded business administrator Nellie Pou.
The business administrator said Robles is taking courses to become a certified municipal finance officer. She said the person Robles is replacing was making $89,000 a year.
“We actually reduced the salary by a significant amount of money,” said Pou.
“If we’re looking to eliminate positions we need to look at that one,” said Sayegh.
“We’re not eliminating an essential position that is absolutely necessary,” retorted Pou.
“Everything should be on the chopping block,” said Sayegh. He said he has written to the administration to eliminate other political hires made by the mayor.
Robles did not respond to a call for comment on Thursday afternoon.
Sayegh identified the mayor’s chief of staff Omar Rodriguez and police telecommunications analyst Pedro Rodriguez for elimination without naming either of the two employees.
The two Rodriguez are not related.
Luis Velez, 5th Ward councilman, has also previously called on the administration to remove political hires before laying off employees.
The city has cut recreation programs for young people and is preparing plans to impose a furlough and layoff employees as it struggles to avoid passing on yet another tax hike to overburdened homeowners.
A small number of homeowners attended the city council meeting on Wednesday night to express the hardship caused by repeated tax hikes over the years in a city where the median family income is $34,000.
Median family income in New Jersey is $72,000, according to U.S. Census data.