SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

April 29, 2014

Light board seeks pay hike

Peabody council to consider raises for light commissioners

By John Castelluccio
Staff Writer

---- — PEABODY — City councilors will discuss tonight whether to move ahead with a pay raise for the city’s light commissioners.

Light commissioners are seeking a hike in their annual stipends from $4,000 to $5,100 — the same amount that School Committee members receive. If the pay hike is approved, they will also become eligible for public pensions after 10 years of service.

Commissioners are already eligible for the city’s health insurance plan, a benefit worth $13,000 to $22,000 a year, depending on the plan chosen. All the commissioners take it.

To get the raise, commissioners need the City Council to forward the request to state lawmakers through a home rule petition. That’s because the Peabody Municipal Light Plant and its board of commissioners were created as a municipal utility under state statute back in the 1880s, and any changes in compensation must be approved by the Legislature.

Last year the City Council gave raises to the mayor, themselves and the School Committee.

“We were all disappointed that everyone else was given an increase and we were kind of left out,” said Light Commission Chairman Bill Aylward. He said commissioners agreed unanimously to send a letter to the council earlier this year seeking a pay hike.

It’s been 19 years since the last raise, Aylward said.

A similar argument was made last year, as councilors pointed out their last raise was in 2001 and school board members’ last raise was in 1998.

The City Council’s finance committee will take up the matter tonight at 6 p.m. Chairman Dave Gravel says he’s undecided and is approaching the subject with an “open mind,” although he voted last year against raises for city councilors and school board members.

Gravel said anything that has long-term financial implications, including health insurance and pensions for elected officials as well as stipends, should be considered before reaching a decision. “I want to understand the ripple effects before I vote on it,” he said.

Aylward says light commissioners work just as hard as other elected officials, attending monthly meetings, serving on subcommittees, and fielding calls from constituents during emergency situations. They review major projects and oversee a $70 million budget.

“It’s a 24-hour-a-day job,” Aylward said, “even though I’m not sitting behind a desk or running wires there. When you break it all down, my paycheck is $2.53 a month.”

As for pensions, Aylward said he believes any elected official who meets the requirements and puts in 10 years of service should be able to collect. The pension eligibility is due to a 2009 reform law in which the Legislature set $5,000 as the minimum compensation for elected officials to be able to enroll in the retirement system.

Elected officials, just like general government employees, have to be 60 by the time they retire in order to collect a pension. The amount is calculated using a formula based on retirement age, the three highest salary years, and years of service. The annual pension cannot be more than 80 percent of the average salary.

In practical terms, if Aylward were to retire at age 60 with 10 years on the commission at a $5,100 stipend, his annual allowance would be approximately $1,275.

You can reach John Castelluccio at 978-338-2527, jcastelluccio@salemnews.com or via Twitter at @SNjcastelluccio.

light commissioners’ responsibilities

Attend monthly meetings

Serve on subcommittees

Field calls from constituents during emergency situations

Review major projects

Set policy

Oversee plant’s $70 million budget

What they make now: $4,000 annually

What they hope to make: $5,100 annually