Boston Mayor Michelle Wu recently proposed hefty salary increases for several elected and appointed positions, including mayor, city councilor, and police and fire commissioners, saying the raises are needed to bring the city’s pay scale in line with its peers.
Under the plan, the mayor’s annual salary would increase from $207,000 to $230,000 while councilors’ would climb from $103,500 to $115,000. Those raises would go into effect after the next election in 2026, while the new salary ranges for appointed positions would be implemented immediately.
The proposed salary levels are generally comparable with salaries of top officials in peer cities, especially when Boston’s high cost of living is taken into account, a Globe review found. A pair of contracts that were recently announced — new police Commissioner Michael A. Cox will earn $300,000 a year, while the fire chief, Paul F. Burke, will receive $290,000 — appear more generous than those offered in most cities of Boston’s size and many that are larger.
In Philadelphia, the mayor made about $230,000 last year, while the mayor of Washington, D.C., made $220,000. In cities with similar populations to Boston, but with lower living costs, mayoral salaries in the past few years have been equivalent or slightly lower than Boston’s. Baltimore’s mayor will make about $199,000 this year, while the mayor of Columbus, Ohio, made $205,000 last year and Detroit’s mayor earned $189,000. In pricey Seattle, the mayor made about $200,000 in 2019, according to local media reports.
In 2020, the last year figures are available, overall prices were 10.2 percent higher in Boston than the national average, while housing costs were 48 percent higher, according to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Even with the raise, Wu would make considerably less than the nation’s highest-paid mayor; San Francisco’s London Breed received $351,000 in 2020.
Adjusted for inflation, Boston has been paying its mayors less and less. In 1987, Mayor Raymond Flynn made $100,000, equivalent to $266,400 today. Mayor Tom Menino’s $125,000 salary in 1998 would be equal to about $230,000 today.
Compared with appointed city managers, elected mayors are a bargain. Worcester, with barely a quarter of Boston’s population, is paying its interim city manager $225,000 a year, according to The Republican. In Cambridge, the former city manager made more than $350,000 in 2020, the Cambridge Chronicle reported.
In similar-sized cities with city managers, the difference was even starker. Charlotte’s city manager makes $380,000 a year, while El Paso paid its city manager close to $400,000 last year.
Wu’s proposals were based on recommendations from the city’s Compensation Advisory Board, which is required to review salaries for top city officials every two years.
Wu submitted her proposals to the City Council for approval on Aug. 8. The council referred the issue to committee.
The board contracted with Deloitte, an accounting firm, which compared Boston’s senior leadership compensation with 17 peer cities, including Seattle, San Francisco, Baltimore, and Milwaukee, and found that Boston’s salaries lagged.
The proposed raises would bring Boston’s salaries in line with other cities, even those with lower costs of living. For instance, Wu wants to raise the pay range for the head of the city’s legal department from between $115,500 and $214,500 to between $160,000 and $225,000.
Philadelphia’s city solicitor, a somewhat similar role, made $175,000 in 2018, while Las Vegas’s city attorney made $228,800 in 2019. The El Paso city attorney’s pay was bumped to $266,000 in 2021.
Wu also proposed raising the salary range of positions such as commissioner of public works or parks and recreation from between $110,000 and $160,000 to between $140,000 and $180,000.
In Washington, the director of parks and recreation made $175,100 last year, while the head of the capital’s public works department made $218,100.
The salaries for Boston’s new police and fire commissioners are slightly higher than in other comparable cities, experts said.
“Wow, that’s good,” Gary Peterson, chief executive of the police executive search firm Public Sector Search & Consulting, said of Cox’s $300,000 annual salary.
That salary puts Cox well ahead of what his peers in New York and Chicago earned in 2021 but behind the chiefs in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Cox’s task of reforming the Boston department “sounds like serious culture change,” which likely meant Boston had to offer a more generous contract, Peterson said.
Boston city councilors stand to receive an $11,500 raise to $115,000 a year. By comparison, in Austin, Texas, city councilors make about $83,000, in Denver they make $99,000, and aldermen in Chicago take home $123,500.
Jim Stergios, executive director of the Pioneer Institute, said the raises were excessive for elected leaders who choose public service.
“The practice of greasing the wheels to advance your agenda is longstanding,” he said. “But when Boston’s top executive is already one of the top paid mayors in the US and makes more than the state’s governor, the raise is hard to justify.”