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Mayor’s pay raises a thorny issue for local cities

After two public meetings, the Melrose Board of Aldermen voted Monday to give Mayor Robert J. Dolan a $25,000 pay raise, boosting his salary to $125,000 starting Jan. 1, 2014.

The board’s 8-3 vote came after intense debate as to whether this city of nearly 27,000 residents could afford the 25 percent raise that Dolan had requested, saying his salary was well below that paid to mayors of similar-sized cities and towns.

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In Woburn, where the mayor’s salary of $73,000 is among the lowest in the region, a proposal before the City Council would boost it to $105,000.

Mayor Scott D. Galvin, who did not propose the raise, said he cannot support such a hefty increase at a time when many in this city of nearly 39,000 people still feel the sting of recession.

“People have made sacrifices,” Galvin said, noting that city workers have endured higher health insurance costs and modest raises. “I do think the salary should be upgraded, but now is not the time.”

The two mayors’ views illustrate the thorny issue of mayoral pay. At a time of rising taxes, uncertain local aid, and still-high unemployment, is it appropriate to raise a mayor’s pay?

The question has been debated in city halls in Everett, Melrose, Somerville, and Woburn, where mayoral raises were recently approved or proposed.

In Melrose, the debate centered on fairness and affordability.

“Be fiscally responsible,” Maryan Hollis, a resident who has questioned the process by which the raise was granted, told aldermen. “Review the budgets of both the city and school district. Consider present and future revenue sources.”

But a majority of aldermen agreed with Dolan that the mayor was underpaid.

“I’m grateful for the aldermen’s support,” Dolan said in an interview after the vote. “I respect where the aldermen who opposed this are coming from. It’s a very, very emotional issue.”

In Woburn, City Council president Paul Denaro has proposed raising the mayor’s pay on Jan. 1, 2014. “It’s hard for the public to buy,” he said. “We have many police officers and firefighters of rank and some teachers who earn higher salaries. There is an equity issue.”

“It’s never a good time to discuss a pay raise, particularly for a mayor,” said Tom Bent, chairman of Somerville’s Compensation Advisory Board and a local businessman.

“It’s a difficult task to determine how much, if any, amount of raise should be given, because every mayor has a different set of responsibilities.”

Mayor Joseph Curtatone of Somerville received a $20,000 pay raise on Jan. 1, boosting his annual salary to $145,000. The advisory board recommended the raise after reviewing a wage study prepared for the city by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

The study compared the pay of nonunion workers in Somerville, including the mayor, with salaries in other communities. A new pay scale was developed for several department heads, along with the mayor.

“The important point for us was that this [raise] was part of a comprehensive analysis of [nonunion] jobs that we undertake periodically,” said Bill White, president of Somerville’s Board of Aldermen, which unanimously approved the mayor’s raise, 11-0, last October. “We had an outside body evaluate the structure.”

In Everett, the mayor’s pay is $85,000. But that will rise to $105,000 starting Jan. 1, 2014.

Each year afterward, the salary will be adjusted based on the three-year average of the Consumer Price Index, said Robert Van Campen, Ward Five alderman.

“The thought was, as good as the economy is doing, that is what the mayor’s pay will increase,” Van Campen said. The index “kind of adds an objective criteria to it.”

In Melrose and Woburn, local officials conducted surveys of similar-sized communities to determine how big a raise the mayor should get.

In Melrose, the Human Resources Department gathered data on 30 area communities, which showed the average pay for a mayor or town manager was $130,000.

The survey, presented to aldermen, indicated that pay increases are proposed for Malden’s mayor, Gary Christenson, who earns $114,000 per year, and Revere’s, Daniel Rizzo, who is paid $111,223.

But spokesmen for each mayor disputed that, saying there are no plans to raise the pay for either mayor.

Still, the survey data was cited by Melrose residents on both sides of the pay raise issue.

“I do think the data supports a double-digit raise,” said Andrew McNeilly, a resident who spoke in favor of the raise at Monday’s meeting.

But resident Joe Sullivan questioned whether the survey should have included the town manager’s pay.

“City or town managers make much more than mayors do,” he said. “When you add that into the calculation, the salary [average] goes way up.”

In Woburn, Denaro conducted a survey of 14 area communities, and determined the average mayoral pay was $105,000, he said.

He used that figure to propose a $32,000 raise for Woburn’s mayor, which is being reviewed by the City Council’s ordinance committee.

“The mayor of this city is running a $120 million business,” Denaro said, referring to the city’s budget.

Kathy McCabe can be reached at kmccabe@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe­KMcCabe.
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