Two days before the Boston City Council is scheduled to vote on funding a hefty pay raise for the city’s police patrolmen, five councilors have said they plan to vote in favor of the award or are leaning toward approving it, with only one councilor saying he opposes the pay hike. Others said they remain undecided.
“This is an affordable contract,” Councilor at Large Felix G. Arroyo said at a public hearing on the award Monday. “I have to make a decision based on what’s before me, and what’s before me is affordable enough.”
Mayor Thomas M. Menino had cautioned that the raises, awarded by an arbitrator after the city and the union that represents the patrolmen failed to reach an agreement, will cost the city too much. City officials estimate that the award will cost $87 million over six years.
Councilor at Large John R. Connolly, who did not attend Monday’s hearing, said in October, when he was a candidate for mayor, that he opposes the award. He lost by a narrow margin to state Representative Martin J. Walsh; Connolly could not be reached for comment Monday.
Councilors Bill Linehan and Frank Baker announced their intention to vote in favor of the award during Monday’s two-hour hearing, at which a budget watchdog warned the council that approving the award could force cuts to other departments and services.
‘I have to make a decision . . . and what’s before me is affordable enough.’
“Yes, the [award] is affordable but it has a price,” said Sam Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau.
City officials have said that while the number of police, fire, and school personnel has remained largely unchanged, the city has lost some 1,000 workers in transportation, parks, and public works over the past decade. Tyler said such cuts could continue if the city is forced to absorb the costs of the arbitrator’s award, which calls for 13.5 percent raises and more money for longevity benefits; bonuses for officers with college degrees; and other perks that bring the total package to just more than a 25 percent increase in compensation.
After the hearing, Councilors Matt O’Malley and Ayanna Pressley said they are leaning toward a yes vote.
Councilor Michael P. Ross, who said he was undecided Monday, told city administrators, who oppose the award, that in order to side with them, he would need to hear an argument beyond the award being too expensive. “I’ve looked long and hard for some sort of financial malfeasance in this contract,” Ross said. “I haven’t found it. . . . This is your last clear chance to tell us where it is, because I’m listening and I’m willing to hear that argument.”
“We have never articulated malfeasance in this award,” Meredith Weenick, the city’s chief financial officer, responded. “I think this . . . will cause the kind of pressure on the operating budget that was described . . . It is, as Sam says, simply too much.”
Representatives of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association have argued that the award begins to bring their base pay in line with that of firefighters. Police officers and firefighters earn an average of just under $110,000, but police officers say their pay only reaches that figure when overtime and detail pay for officers is included. Base pay for a firefighter is on average $15,000 more per year, city data show.
The argument for parity apparently swayed the arbitrator, Timothy J. Buckalew, who explained his decision in a document last month.
“If parity, even rough parity, is desirable,” he wrote, “then parity must be accorded some weight in this award.”
Buckalew said the city’s initial proposal to give officers roughly the same salary increases as civilian employees, who received 12 percent pay increases over 6 years, “would lead inevitably to a widening gap between the base wages of police and fire employees.”
He said the city can afford the patrolmen’s contract, largely because Boston “enjoys enviable financial stability.”
Five city councilors said they were still considering how to vote: Ross; Charles Yancey; Tito Jackson; Salvatore LaMattina; and Mark Ciommo. Council President Stephen J. Murphy said he knows how he will vote, but would not say Monday. Councilor Rob Consalvo was not at the hearing and could not be reached for comment. Many councilors, including those undecided, have said they are disturbed by the differences in base salaries between firefighters and officers.
But several have also said they are worried the city has entered a cycle in which unions representing city employees will clamor for large pay hikes to stay in line with each other, or at least catch up.
All this is happening at the expense of taxpayers, LaMattina said. “The system is a mess,” he said. “We need to come up with a new system for how we give out raises for the city. Everyone should get the same raises. How do we get there?”
Maria Cramer can be reached at email@example.com.