Council to raise mayor’s salary

WESTFIELD – The City Council last night began the process of giving the winner of the November mayoral election a $10,000 pay raise and voted to hike the pay of board and commission members.
The council, in an 8-3 vote, approved the first reading of an ordinance that will jump the salary of the mayor sitting in the corner office next January from the current $90,000 to $100,000. Even at $100,000 the mayor’s salary will be far below the compensation paid to many city employees.
The City Council also voted 5-6 to reject a $2,000 pay raise for members of the 2014 City Council and by that same 5-6 vote declined to give School Committee members a salary hike from the current $5,000 to $6,000.
The council has initiated the discussion of compensation for elected and appointed officials in December as it set the tax rate, but decided to table the issue.
Ward 1 Councilor Christopher Keefe, who sponsored the pay raise motion last December as City Council president, a position now held by At-large Councilor Brian Sullivan, said he was bringing the motion back onto the floor for consideration because of the need to include the funding in the 2014 fiscal year budget which is currently being formulated.
“If this is approved, the money will need to be put into the new budget,” Keefe said. “The question is: how do we compensate municipal officers?
“We increased the mayoral salary 10 years ago and the School Committee and City Council salaries have not been increased for well over a decade,” Keefe said. “It is the legislative branch’s responsibility to set these salaries, which is always a difficult decision.”
That statement was borne out during the debate of the three motions, especially the discussion related to the City Council salary increase.
The Council easily approved an earlier motion to increase the stipend for board and commission members from the current $600 to $750 for full members and $500 for alternate members who participate only when a full member cannot attend a meeting.
The motion also identified several boards and commissions for additional compensation, including the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, Police and Fire commissions, License Commission and Board of Assessors, at twice the establish rate, while the chairmen and chairwomen of those boards will receive compensation at a rate 20 percent “greater that than established for members of that board and commission.” Keefe said the greater compensation for those boards was directly related to the fact that those boards and commission have more meetings, often two per month, and greater responsibility, as well as being the appointing authority for departments.
Ward 4 Councilor Mary O’Connell requested that Keefe’s motion be “trifurcated” into three separate votes, a request supported by many council members. At-large Councilor James R. Adams, who voted for the mayoral increase, objected to the City Council pay raise.
“I agree with the mayor’s salary going to $100,000.  It’s a tough job,” Adams said. “But I don’t think a $2,000 for the City Council will bring out more candidates.”
Ward 6 Councilor Christopher Crean said that he, too, would support a mayoral raise, but not a City Council pay hike.
“The mayor’s position is a full time job, but we’re all part timers,” Crean said.
At-large Councilor Agma Sweeney, who voted no for the mayoral and City Council pay increase, but yes for the School Committee increase, said that the financial climate is still hard for constituents.
“I think the timing of this is wrong and I cannot support giving the mayor and council member’s raises,” Sweeney said. “That is not a reflection of performance, just the tough financial times.”
At-large Councilor John J. Beltrandi III said that the City Council and School Committee salaries have not been increased in 13 years.
“I will vote yes because we’re doing the job, as are members of the School Committe,” Beltrandi said. “It’s a lot of work and a pretty good effort is being put in.”
At-large Councilor David Flaherty disagreed, stating that the City Council is “failing its responsibility for long-term financial issue” oversight.
“I will vote no,” Flaherty said. “The real issue is that I don’t think we’re doing a big part of the job. If the proposal was to fund these increased with cuts in other budget areas, I may have supported it.
“I do think that we are underpaid, that the mayor is underpaid,” Flaherty said, but cited the financial liabilities of current employee contracts, pension and other post employment benefits (OPEB) as his fiscal concern. “We (council members) do not have the ability to control contracts. Employees just got retroactive pay and we’re $15 million short of OPEB every year.”
Flaherty did vote to approve the School Committee increase.
“It’s their budget.  They will have to figure out how they will pay for it,” Flaherty said.
At-large Councilor Brent B. Bean II said that he has served on the City Council since 2003 and has yet to vote on a raise for council members.
“This is one of the hardest issues we review,” Bean said. “We’re not giving ourselves a raise.  We’re giving a seat that raise. Some of us may not run for election this fall.  Others may be defeated.”
“I think it’s appropriate.  The Council deserves this,” Bean said. “We make a lot of decisions and I hope that this will attract more people to run for the (City) Council and School Committee.
“There is always the argument that this is not a good time,” Bean said. “It’s never a good time to give anybody a raise, but people are getting raises.”
The vote to increase the mayoral salary, effective January 21, 2014, was approved by an 8-3 vote, with O’Connell, Sweeney and Flaherty casting the “no” votes.
“The City Council increase was defeated by a 5-6 vote with O’Connell, , Sweeney, Adams, Crean, Flaherty and At-large Councilor Kevin Harraghy voting in the majority, casting “no” votes. The School Committee salary increase was also defeated on a 5-6 vote, with Ward 5 Councilor Richard E. Onofrey Jr., Adams, Bean, Crean, Harraghy and Keefe voting in the majority.

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