Mayor's Salary Going Up—But Not as Much as Requested
Request to increase mayoral salary to $107,569 in 2014 and to $109,721 in 2015 fails to garner enough support from aldermen.
The mayor of Melrose—whether Rob Dolan or someone else elected in next year's election—will receive a 3.5 percent raise in 2012 and a 1 percent raise in 2013, bringing the total salary to $99,986, but a request from city officials to increase the mayor's salary to $109,721 by 2015 failed to garner enough support from the Melrose Board of Aldermen after a rigorous and sometimes heated debate on Monday night.
The mayor's position currently has a salary of $95,563. The request from Patrick Dello Russo, Melrose city auditor and chief financial officer, and Marianne Long, Melrose human resources director, sought to increase the salary to $98,907 in 2012, which was the 3.5 percent raise Dolan was scheduled to receive in 2011 if not for the citywide wage freeze.
Then in 2013, the salary would increase 1 percent to $99,896; in 2014, it would increase 7.7 percent to $107,569; and in 2015, it would increase 2 percent to $109,721.
After splitting the request into two separate votes—one vote on the salary increases for 2012 and 2013, and another vote on the salary increases for 2014 and 2015—the aldermen eventually approved the increases for 2012 and 2013 by an 8-3 vote. Voting 'no' were Ward 2 Alderman Monica Medeiros, Ward 1 Alderman John Tramontozzi and Alderman at-Large Ron Seaboyer.
On the salary increases for 2014 and 2015, earlier in the evening the aldermen's Appropriations Committee voted 7-4 in favor of recommending the increases, with Ward 4 Alderman Bob Boisselle joining Medeiros, Tramontozzi and Seaboyer in opposition.
Because the mayor's salary is set by city ordinance, it requires eight votes to pass. Seeing that the requested increases for 2014 and 2015 were one vote short needed for final passage, Alderman at-Large Paul Brodeur offered a compromise of instead increasing the mayor's salary to $102,000 starting in 2014.
However, Brodeur's amended order also received a 7-4 vote in favor, still falling short of the eight votes necessary for passage.
Because the Melrose City Charter requires the aldermen to set the mayor's salary in the first 18 months of the term for which aldermen are elected, and that the salary becomes effective in January of the year following the next biennial city election, the mayor's salary cannot be altered again until 2016.
City CFO, human resources director make their case
In addition to the reasons laid out in their letter to the aldermen, Dello Russo and Long said at Monday's meeting that the requested salary increases represent an average 2.8 percent annual increase from 2011-2015; that the 1 percent increase in 2013 represents the cost of living adjustment (COLA) scheduled for all union and non-union employees; and that the 2014 and 2015 increases are taken directly from the city's salary administrative plan for non-union employees.
Dello Russo added that the "step" salary increases for employees under the salary administrative plan is 3.5 percent—more than the 2.8 annual increase requested.
Alderman at-Large Don Conn, however, bluntly said that the mayor's compensation should not be tied to COLAs or union salary increases.
"Once you go down that road, you compromise the mayor's ability to negotiate contracts," Conn said.
Long said that the mayor receives a lesser increase than employees, because the mayor is not actually entitled to COLAs that unions negotiate into contracts—in addition to their "step" increases—nor longevity pay. She also noted that under the City Charter approved by voters in 2005, the mayor cannot receive outside compensation.
"So for the mayor, this is it," she said.
Economic climate fuels opposition to salary increases
Tramontozzi and Medeiros both described their opposition to the salary increases in the context of the economic climate, while cautioning that their comments did not represent a referendum on Dolan himself.
Tramontozzi noted that the city currently has a wage freeze because of the loss of "millions in state aid," and noted that both Dolan and Dello Russo have raised the specter of additional local aid cuts next year.
"Are we sending a signal—a wrong signal—to other city employees," he added, "who just accepted a wage freeze and may look to this as going against what they did?"
President Barack Obama recently instituted a federal wage freeze, Tramontozzi added, but Alderman at-Large Mary Beth McAteer Margolis responded, "the federal government is running a humongous deficit. We're not running a deficit in the city of Melrose. We're on target."
Medeiros echoed Tramontozzi's remarks, adding that the raises are "a significant increase and something that most of us in the private sector are not seeing over a four year period. Certainly it's something we don't know if we'll be able to provide for our city employees over the next few years."
Noting that the requested increase equates to a $14,158 pay bump over five years, Medeiros said she wondered "whose position is going to suffer" with that money going to the mayor's salary.
"When I sat on the School Committee and we looked to find a part-time reading teacher, that $15,000 pretty much would've gotten us there," she said.
Ward 7 Alderman Bill Forbes responded, "Do you realize how many reading teachers' jobs this mayor has saved already?"
Sitting next to Medeiros, Forbes also pointed to Dolan's work in helping residents struck by crises, such as the 2006 Mother's Day floods that particularly struck hard in Ward 2, which Medeiros represents.
"I think it's an insult to the mayor personally," he said. "I think it's their time to step up for him."
Appearing perturbed, Medeiros responded that "my fellow aldermen have made it very personal in the true sense of the word," and said that the requested salary increases come at a time when the unemployment rate still hovers above 9 percent.
"It's insulting to the people at home," she said. "It's not just the reading teacher."
Conn later responded that "with all respect to my friend, the aldermen from Ward 7, this really shouldn't be about a person. I really don't think it's about a person, it's about the position ... it's about setting an appropriate compensation level for the position in these times."
Should Melrose compare mayor's compensation to other communities?
Ward 4 Alderman and Board President Frank Wright said that based on the salaries for mayors and town administrators in other communities (click here for a chart), the Melrose mayor currently earns 78 percent of the average salary of other mayors and town administrators. Two years from now, under the requested salary increases, the mayor would make 81 percent, and in 2015 the mayor would make 90 percent.
"Winchester pays $140,000 for its town administrator and (that position) sits vacant," Wright said, adding that if he were Dolan, he'd pursue that position, "but Rob is a Melrose resident who's dedicated to this city."
However, Seaboyer said that the other communities on that chart have larger commercial tax bases than Melrose, adding he's read recent reports of rising foreclosures in Melrose and home sales dropping.
"I've never been one to want to play catch up," he said.
Forbes, in support of the salary increases, said he anticipates Dolan being re-elected next year and noted that Dolan does not receive overtime when he's responding to floods and other emergencies or attending myriad events around the city, nor does he receive a stipend for serving on the School Committee, as others mayors and town administrators do.
"If you've got a good CEO, that makes our job so much easier," Forbes said. "I really feel that I'm going to support this as is. In 2013, 2014 we can come back and look at it ... we want good qualified people (to run for mayor)."
Brodeur said he understood the instinct to push back against salary increases for public officials in trying times, but said that given the logic that the unemployment rate continues to be high, "I would think the aldermen would be suggesting cutting the mayor's salary, given the economy."
Adding that there "are always more needs than our ability to satisfy those needs," Brodeur said the aldermen should recognize wage freezes won't last forever and that Melrose—not just for the mayor, but across the board—pays its employees less than other communities.
"As much as we can pooh-pooh the idea of paying folks money, particularly in hard times, that's part of the job (of the aldermen)," he said. "If we are going to follow through on that logic, they need to look at everyone's salary. We're talking about fairly small numbers. We certainly have ability to reduce if that's what the times call for."