Council defers pay hike motions


WESTFIELD – The City Council voted Thursday night to table consideration of increasing compensation for elected city officials,  following a protracted debate to set the tax rates for the current fiscal year.
The council was considering a pay increase for the mayor, council and school committee, but deferred to take action for several reasons. One reason is that the council was considering increasing the mayor’s salary in January, but Council President Christopher Keefe was informed prior to the meeting by City Clerk Karen Fanion that council could not increase elected officials compensation during the present term in office. The council could approve pay increases effective after Inauguration Day in January of 2014.
The increases included a $10,000 annual increase for the mayor and a $2,000 increase for the City Council and school committee. The other elected board, the Municipal Light Board, adopted a policy linking compensation for its members to the salary paid to councilors, so that board’s compensation is automatically increased when the council compensation is increased
Another reason is that several council members voiced objections to considering salary increases just minutes after raising taxes for all classes of property.
The salary increase issue was originally discussed in the council’s Legislative & Ordinance Committee, which broke the original motion into three separate motions. The L&O members voted to give a positive recommendation for the mayor’s salary increase, but unanimously voted against salary hikes for the council and school committee.
The motion approved in committee was to increase the mayor’s salary from $90,000 to $100,000 in January, a motion amended on the council floor to change that date to January of 2014.
At-large Councilor James R. Adams made the motion to recommend the salary increase to the full council.
“The mayor has a tough job, so I don’t mind pumping it up a little,” Adams said.
Adams brought the issue onto the floor during the full council debate.
“The mayor runs a budget of more than $120 million.  That’s a huge job,” Adams said. “This could also bring more competition for the job.”
At-large Councilor Brent B. Bean II said that during his 12-year tenure on the council, it has never voted to increase the salary of council and school committee members.
“We did vote to increase the mayor’s salary several years ago.  I think it was in 2007,” Bean said. “We need to attract qualified people to serve as mayor, on the City Council and school committee. We’re voting on the position’s salary, not the individual holding those positions, which can change in any election.”
Keefe said that a number of municipal employees receive compensation exceeding that paid to the mayor.
“At some point it will be difficult to find people willing to serve at $90,000,” Keefe said. “We want to make sure we attract and retain good people, the best and brightest. I put this motion in to consideration to initiate a comprehensive review of compensation.”
“It’s never a good time to take these votes, but at some point we have to stand and take a vote,” Keefe said.
Several councilors objected that taking the compensation vote immediately after raising taxes is not appropriate.
At-large Councilor David A. Flaherty said that the “pay raises are justified, but not on the same night as we increase taxes.  I’m a fan of paying appropriately and I think the mayor’s salary should be higher, but given the financial status of the city, I can’t support this.”
Ward 4 Councilor Mary O’Connell also objected to the timing of the salary increase debate.
“This is a terrible night for these issues to come out.  I’m going to have to say ‘no’,” O’Connell said.
At-large Councilor Agma Sweeney also objected to the compensation issue.
“These are very tough jobs, but in good conscience I cannot support this,” Sweeney said.
Flaherty suggested that the appropriate time to consider salary increases is during the budget process in June when the impact of the salary increases, which total just under $50,000, can be considered as the entire budget is debated.

To watch video of the city council meeting, click here.

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