The Boston City Council on Wednesday not only approved the salary increases Mayor Michelle Wu proposed earlier this year for top city leadership, but ramped them up even higher for the mayor and the council itself, paving the way for future pay hikes of 20 percent.
Councilors say the higher pay levels will help the city, with its high cost of living, remain competitive when it comes to attracting municipal talent for appointed posts and bring the salaries of elected lawmakers more in line with comparable cities.
Under the plan, which the 13-member body passed unanimously, the mayor’s annual salary would increase from $207,000 to $250,000, while councilors’ would climb from $103,500 to $125,000. The raises for mayor and the council would go into effect after the next election cycle for each of those elected posts, though other raises for appointed city posts would take effect retroactively to Aug. 1, according to the council.
That means the mayor’s $43,000, or 20 percent, increase would take effect in 2026 while the councilors’ nearly $22,000, or 20 percent, pay raise would happen in 2024.
Wu first proposed the higher pay scales during the summer, and floated raising the mayoral salary to $230,000 and the councilor salary to $115,000.
The median household income in Boston is $76,298, according to census figures.
The changes would mean Boston’s chief executive made more than Philadelphia’s mayor, who earned 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 earned $189,000. In pricey Seattle, the mayor made about $200,000 in 2019, according to local media reports.
The nation’s highest-paid mayor is San Francisco’s London Breed, who received $351,000 in 2020.
While the council intervened to lift council and mayoral salaries beyond Wu’s proposal, councilors left the rest of her proposal intact, which also included bumps to salary ranges for appointed positions such as police and fire commissioners and the head of the legal department. The proposal now heads to Wu’s desk for final approval. The mayor has 15 days to either sign or veto the measure. If she takes no action, it becomes a city ordinance.
“The mayor looks forward to reviewing the amended ordinance approved by the council in the coming days,” a Wu spokesman said in a statement.
According to a report from Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune, chair of the council’s government operations committee, the raise for councilors would bring Boston in line with similar cities.
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 cities in Massachusetts and across the country, including Seattle, San Francisco, Baltimore, and Milwaukee. 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 various municipal pay ranges aside from city council and mayor.
But in her report, Louijeune said the recommendations for city councilor pay from that process were based solely on cost of living increases since 2018, not comparable with peer cities.
Wu’s proposals, which were submitted in August, were based on recommendations from the city’s Compensation Advisory Board.
Among other salary changes included in the council-approved measure, Wu pushed to raise the floor of the pay range for the head of the city’s legal department $45,000, to a range of $160,000 to $225,000, from its current range of $115,500 to $214,500.
But not everyone supported the income boosts.
“The large increases approved by the City Council is something different than what was recommended by the mayor: not fiscally responsible, nor very thoughtful, and out of line with the [Compensation Advisory Board],” said Pam Kocher, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau.
Sam Dillon, president of Boston Firefighters Local 718, said Wednesday that his union supports pay raises, provided that they extend to all public employees, not just elected officials.
Indeed, Wednesday’s approved recommendations will not affect the vast majority of the city’s 19,000-strong workforce and will not 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.
Emma Platoff of the Globe staff and correspondent Alexander Thompson contributed to this report.
Danny McDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.