The City Council vote earlier this month giving raises to Peabody’s elected officials had a little something for everyone. Mayor Ted Bettencourt got a raise to $105,000. Councilors treated themselves to a bump at the same time, from $7,466 to $9,450 (not counting a stipend of $1,800 for expenses). School Committee members got a boost from $4,000 to $5,100.
What did taxpayers get? Most likely a sour stomach, and a bill they could be paying for decades to come, since the School Committee raise now allows members to count their time on the board toward city pensions.
Raising the mayor’s salary from $95,000 to $105,000 makes sense; the chief executive of a city with more than 51,000 residents should be compensated at least as well as other North Shore mayors. Still, we would have preferred the raise go to the next mayor, who will be sworn in in 2014. (That mayor, of course, could be Bettencourt, should he decide to run again.) Giving the raise directly to Bettencourt, while tying his raise to theirs, only adds to the perception that councilors were trying to spread the wealth.
The raises for the City Council and School Committee, however, are much more difficult to justify. Service on either panel is meant to be just that — public service. It’s not a city job on a par with public safety or public works employees.
That hasn’t stopped elected officials from treating it that way by taking advantage of benefits offered to full-time workers.
City councilors and School Committee members, for example, can opt into the city’s health insurance program. School Committee members Beverley Ann Griffin Dunne, Jarrod Hochman, Dave McGeney and Brandi Carpenter enjoy the health benefits. So do Councilors Tom Gould, Michael Garabedian, Rico Mello and Barry Sinewitz.
The costs of those benefits range from $14,000 to more than $20,000 a year, making it tough to be sympathetic when councilors and committee members note they haven’t received a raise since 2001.
What’s worse, School Committee members will now be allowed to count their service toward a public pension.
Even if you consider serving on the School Committee a job, rather than a public service, this gives the public “employees” full-time benefits for part-time work.
Other public sector workers don’t get the same benefits if they work part time; that perk goes only to elected officials.
Salem gets around this by classifying School Committee compensation as a stipend — a much more reasonable option, particularly considering such elected officials have no required work hours. This allows Salem to compensate volunteers for expenses they may incur and give them a small expression of gratitude. It does not obligate taxpayers to provide them with health insurance, pension credits or other benefits.
It’s another instance of public officials getting benefits far greater than anything enjoyed by those in the private sector.