Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson took the unusual step of vetoing a proposed salary increase for an authority head that was double the standard increase for county employees.
Atlantic County Utilities Authority President Rick Dovey was voted a salary of $154,189 at the last ACUA board meeting in December — a 4 percent increase over his 2012 salary of $148,259.
While Levinson is a member of that board, as county executive he also has a measure of financial control over public utilities.
Levinson vetoed the proposed salary increase, stating in a letter to ACUA Board Chairman Marvin Embry that “employees of county government and related agencies such as the Utility Authority have been relegated to 2 (percent) annual salary increases. The salary figure approved for Mr. Dovey is 4 (percent), which exceeds this standard.”
Levinson said later that “hopefully, the board will understand my position. I have tremendous respect for Rick Dovey. He does a terrific job. But I’m going to hold the line. That’s all there is to it.”
Dovey, who has led the ACUA since 1990, has had salary increases of as much as 7 percent as recently as 2007, with his highest increase at almost 11.9 percent in 2005. His average increase since 1992 is about 2.8 percent.
But Atlantic County has attempted to hold steady in terms of spending during the economic downturn over the past few years, especially after a 2 percent tax-increase cap was imposed by the state in 2010. The proposed 2013 general budget is about $100,000 less than 2012’s — although the tax rate could increase 11 percent due to billions of dollars of losses in valuations.
As a result of the veto, issued in late December, Dovey’s salary will have increased 2 percent for two straight years, after seeing no increase the previous two.
Approving an increase for double the standard 2 percent “sends a bad message” at this time, Levinson said. “I want to make it very clear to authorities and boards that I expect them to hold the line.”
Levinson said no other executive salaries in the county exceeded the 2 percent increase.
“I’m not pleased to be put in this situation, by the way,” Levinson said. “Hopefully, my relationship with Rick Dovey will not be affected by it.”
For his part, Dovey said, “I don’t have any problem, other than that’s how the process works.”
He added that his salary increase was eventually approved at 2 percent, which would give him a salary of $151,224 — still about equal to the average salary of local public authority directors in South Jersey last year.
Embry could not be reached for comment. Board member Fred Akers said he could not comment on the originally proposed salary because it was a confidential personnel matter taken up under closed session.
Board member Mike Epps said he did not vote for the 4 percent increase because he was not present at that meeting.
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