By Alan Burke
---- — The Peabody City Council voted last night to increase the mayor’s salary to $105,000 per year.
At the same time, councilors voted to tie their own salary to the mayor’s, providing for it to be 9 percent of his total earnings plus a $1,900 stipend.
Councilor Dave Gamache, who made both motions, noted that neither the mayor nor the council has gotten a salary increase since 2001.
“I believe that the chief administrative officer of the city should earn one of the top 10 salaries,” he said.
Instead, the mayor is out-earned by his department heads, as well as several police officers and firefighters.
Noting that he has tried to increase the mayor’s pay several times in the past, Gamache said he was stymied by the fact that former Mayor Michael Bonfanti consistently declined any increase. If the mayor had been receiving boosts to commensurate with the amounts gained in the city’s union contracts, he would now be earning $123,195, according to Gamache.
“We have to make up for lost ground,” Gamache said.
Mayor Ted Bettencourt currently earns $94,537. He could not be reached last night to say whether he would take the increase.
Gamache also called for a raise for the council, comparing their compensation with other cities, citing more than $15,000 paid in Revere and Lynn and more than $11,000 paid in Beverly. The increase voted last night would raise councilors’ salaries to $9,450.
Set to retire at the end of the year, Gamache would not benefit from the increase, which kicks in January 2014.
Councilor Jim Liacos added that any increase ought to also include school board members, who haven’t seen their salaries increased since 1998. He won support for providing another $1,100 to them, saying, “They work every bit as hard as we do.”
Not everyone was eager to embrace the pay raise. Member Anne Manning-Martin said, “My vote would not be any reflection on the hard work the mayor’s been doing.” But she added, “I will not support the motion. ... It’s more a reflection on the economy and the struggle that people are going through.”
When it came to an increase for councilors, Manning-Martin added, “I can’t vote to increase my own salary.”
Rico Mello added his “no” vote in both cases, notwithstanding the fact that he arrived at the meeting just as the discussion over the mayor’s pay raise had ended. As for paying councilors more money, he offered an amendment whereby their salaries would increase in proportion to every decrease in property taxes. Likewise, salaries would be reduced whenever property taxes went up.
His was the only vote in favor of this plan.
Member Dave Gravel, a candidate for state representative in the April 2 special election, voted against extending the pay raise to council members.
On the other hand, Gravel spoke up for giving the mayor more money.
“It’s difficult to understand,” he said, “how the chief executive officer of the city should be paid less than every single person who reports to him.”
“Every year, I get that infamous list in the newspapers,” said Councilor Barry Osborne, citing the list of public employee salaries. “You have to go down pretty far on that list to get to the mayor.”
He praised the mayor’s work ethic, saying, “He’s out every night. He has a lot of critical responsibilities.”
“Our mayor is doing a great job,” Liacos said.
“The $105,000 is still not enough for the chief executive of the city,” Councilor Mike Garabedian said. He added, “I don’t think one of us took the job for money.”
City councilors are also eligible for city health insurance, though only some avail themselves of it.