Boston will implement new regulations Monday to tighten control of the lucrative marriage business at City Hall. But the changes fall far short of earlier City Council proposals that would have stopped the city clerk from keeping tens of thousands of dollars in fees for performing weddings during the workday.
City Clerk Maureen E. Feeney and three other municipal employees authorized to perform nuptials will still be able to keep the $60 fee for ceremonies conducted on the job, while they earn their regular salaries. But the city has added a $15 administrative charge, which will go into the city’s coffers.
Also, the hours during which weddings can be conducted have been officially restricted. The city clerk’s office will preside over weddings only from 10 to 11:30 a.m. and from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. The previous clerk also tried to limit ceremonies to specific time slots.
The clerk’s office will also have to file reports showing how many weddings are performed – and how much extra income is earned — during the workday.
The promise to change the payment system came last December, a week before councilors installed Feeney — their former colleague — as city clerk. Two councilors, Michael P. Ross and Stephen J. Murphy, filed an ordinance that would have required the charge for City Hall weddings to go into city coffers, just like taxes and fees. But the measure was at odds with a state law, which allows city and town clerks across Massachusetts to keep fees for weddings performed during the workday.
“This is one of those things where we can’t change it at our level,” Murphy said last week. “We did the best we could to change our procedures for the tax-paying public.”
Wedding fees augment the Boston city clerk’s $102,000 annual salary. The previous clerk, Rosaria Salerno, has said she earned more than $60,000 a year performing weddings.
Feeney, who has been city clerk since January, estimated in an interview last week that she has made a little more than $10,000 in the last six months performing weddings at City Hall.
Feeney said she has been splitting the duties with the assistant city clerk and does not expect her annual matrimony fees to come anywhere close to $60,000.
“If I made even half that, I’d be surprised,” said Feeney, who described weddings as one of her many daily duties. “It’s something I do, it’s very lovely, but it’s certainly not the only thing we do.”
Critics argue that the system allows the city clerk to collect a dual income. Across the state, many other city and town clerks operate the same way, but their offices do not see as much wedding traffic as Boston City Hall.
At least now, Ross said, the city will see an infusion of $15 into its treasury from each wedding. It was unlikely, he said, the city would be able to stake claim to the full fee paid for weddings. “We weren’t optimistic that [a new state law] would pass,” Ross said.
One fiscal watchdog, Samuel R. Tyler of the Municipal Research Bureau, described the new regulations as “solid steps that will provide more accountability.”
The clerk’s office performs ceremonies for members of the military free of charge. For all other couples, City Hall weddings will now cost $75, which must be paid in cash. That is still below the $100 maximum allowed under state law. Couples arriving late for their scheduled union face a $25 penalty.