Mayor Michelle Wu is seeking hefty salary increases for some of Boston’s top elected and appointed jobs, including mayor, city councilor, and police and fire commissioner, a step her administration said is needed to bring the city’s pay scale into line with peers.
Wu’s proposal would set the mayor’s salary as high as $230,000, up 11 percent from the current cap of $207,000. For councilors, pay would also rise 11 percent, from $103,500 to $115,000. The wage hikes would not go into effect until after the next election cycle, meaning Wu and current councilors would need to be reelected to benefit.
But if the City Council approves Wu’s plan, other changes would be effective retroactively to Aug. 1, including a significant boost to the pay ranges for police commissioner, fire commissioner, corporation counsel, and chief information officer. Wu wants to set the pay range for the police and fire commissioners between $260,000 and $325,000, up from the current range of $200,000 to $250,000.
The median household income in Boston is $76,298, according to census figures.
Alex Lawrence, Boston’s chief people officer, said a city study found salaries for some of Boston’s senior roles are 6 to 25 percent below the median of more than a dozen peers across the country.
“We need to be able to pay higher” to attract and retain the best talent, Lawrence said in an interview Monday.
Boston has offered new fire Commissioner Paul F. Burke a salary of $290,000, and incoming police Commissioner Michael Cox a salary of $300,000, “which reflects the market rate for major city police chiefs,” a city spokesperson told The Boston Globe last month. Both those salaries are above the current pay range, meaning the City Council will need to approve the changes. The body next meets on Wednesday. Cox is set to start Aug. 15, while Burke has already started.
Council President Ed Flynn said he would support Wu’s proposal.
“It is prudent for the city of Boston to conduct this review,” Flynn said in a statement.
Councilors last voted to raise the salaries of many top city earners in 2018, but some increases were far smaller then. At the time, councilors raised salaries for the council and mayor by about 4 percent. The bigger increases this time around are “based on the change in cost of living since the last time these positions were benchmarked in 2018,” city officials said in a report recommending the increases.
Every two years, a city board is required to recommend salary changes for certain senior municipal officials whose pay is not governed by union contracts. But amid COVID-19 and mayoral leadership shifts, that body had not met since 2018.
Starting in March, the city worked with Deloitte Consulting to compare Boston to 17 peer localities in Massachusetts and across the country. In studying nonelected positions — including roles such as police and fire commissioner, as well as senior but lower-profile posts such as city auditor and city clerk — officials found that on average, Boston was paying below the market median. They recommended increases of 15 to 30 percent to the pay ranges.
The new proposal affects ranges, not individual salaries, so it would not instantaneously herald five-figure raises for all top city employees. It would also not immediately impact Boston’s lowest-paid workers. Salary ranges for City Council staff, for example, begin in the mid $40,000s, and some grave diggers working full time are paid less than $37,000, according to January 2022 data. According to data provided by the city, as of January, many full-time paraprofessionals, custodians, and cafeteria managers were paid less than $40,000.
Those salaries can be tough to square with city residency requirements, which mandate that most workers live within Boston city limits for 10 years. That often leaves the most junior, and lowest paid, city employees struggling to afford housing in a city where rents and home prices are skyrocketing. Boston was ranked the fourth most expensive city for renters in the United States, with a median monthly rent of $2,600 on a newly listed one-bedroom apartment, according to a July report by rental company Zumper.
Lawrence said the Wu administration is committed to examining the compensation of its lowest-paid workers, too, though the city has not done a comprehensive review comparing their earnings to wages in peer cities. Lawrence said her team has conducted more targeted studies of certain departments where compensation seemed low.
Councilor Frank Baker said he would support the increases Wu proposed, but hopes they lead to broader discussions about higher wages for the city’s lowest earners. He cited the need to raise pay for security guards and EMS workers in particular.
“We’re trying to run a city government, and the pay structure that we have just isn’t enough to attract talent. You can only get so far on, ‘I want to give back to my city,’ or, ‘I want the experience,’” Baker said. “We need to pay more.”
For many city workers, wages are set through union contracts, which typically include modest raises when they are renegotiated every few years. When Wu entered office in November, the city’s contracts had expired with all its municipal unions, and many are still being debated.
In its new three-year contract, inked last month, the Boston Teachers Union secured wage increases of 9.5 percent.
City officials said workers have also received raises over the last few years through cost of living adjustments and compensation reviews.
Baker said the city should look beyond the annual raises common in union contracts and consider broader reforms to city workers’ salary structures.
Sam Dillon, who heads the firefighters union, which is currently negotiating a contract with the city, called Wu’s proposal “very positive.”
“I’m very encouraged by the fact that the mayor shares our belief that public employees and city of Boston employees deserve to be fairly and competitively compensated for their jobs,” Dillon said Monday. With inflation and the city’s expensive housing market, he said, he’d like to see all city employees considered for raises.
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