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Panel backs City Council raise, but some councilors want more

Said Boston City Council President Bill Linehan of the proposed $9,500-per-year raise: “It would be less than 1 percent per year over a 10-year period. That’s totally inadequate.”
Said Boston City Council President Bill Linehan of the proposed $9,500-per-year raise: “It would be less than 1 percent per year over a 10-year period. That’s totally inadequate.”(Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff/File 2014)

An independent board is recommending a nearly 11 percent raise for Boston city councilors, even though a detailed comparison with other cities found they are not necessarily underpaid.

In a report filed in the city clerk’s office, the Compensation Advisory Board proposed a $9,500 pay hike for councilors, increasing their salaries to $97,000. The finding set up a potential clash between Mayor Martin J. Walsh and some city councilors, who continue to seek a far bigger raise of $20,000, which would bring their salaries to $107,500.

In an interview Tuesday, City Council President Bill Linehan described a salary of $97,000 as “inadequate,” adding that the body has not had a raise since 2006. “It would be less than 1 percent per year over a 10-year period. That’s totally inadequate.”

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Councilors in October voted to give themselves a $20,000 raise, but Walsh vetoed it. The mayor did not respond Tuesday to questions submitted to his press office about the recommended raise. In a statement, Walsh, who appointed the compensation board members, said he would review the report.

Reviving last fall’s standoff, Linehan said the council has the nine votes needed to override Walsh’s veto and pass the $20,000 raise. The council and the mayor’s office disagree over whether the city’s legislative body has that authority.

The Compensation Advisory Board’s recommendation was made with reservations. In fact, after spending eight months studying the issue and analyzing council and mayoral salaries in Boston and 10 other cities, the board found ample evidence that Boston councilors’ $87,500 annual salary was not substantially out of line.

But the six-member compensation board ultimately recommended a raise after examining other salaries in Boston City Hall. The research showed that Boston’s 26 Cabinet officials and department heads had seen their pay increase by 10.9 percent since 2006.

“These salaries have been at this level for quite a number of years,” Deborah Shah, chairwoman of the Compensation Advisory Board, said of City Council salaries. “$87,500 is not worth the same thing today as it was in 2006.”

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The board recommended a similar raise for Walsh that would boost the mayor’s salary to $194,000, from $175,000. Walsh has previously said he will not accept a raise.

The salary report will be formally shared with councilors at their next meeting, Aug 12. The report is only a recommendation and does not suggest timing for raises.

A pay increase would require the City Council to pass an ordinance, which would need the mayor’s signature. City officials could leave their compensation unchanged.

“There should be some increase,” said Samuel R. Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a fiscal watchdog funded by business and nonprofits. “But it would be hard to justify anything over [$97,000]. I think the board was very fair in their final decision.”

Linehan and Councilor Stephen J. Murphy appeared before the board to make the case for the $20,000 raise. Murphy did not return a phone message seeking comment.

The report spans roughly 64 pages and includes scores of graphs and charts. The board based part of its analysis on surveys of 10 cities similar to Boston in population and financial resources: Baltimore; Dallas; Minneapolis; Philadelphia; Portland, Ore.; San Antonio; San Francisco; San Jose, Calif.; Seattle; and Virginia Beach, Va.

The study examined factors that included salaries, benefits, cost of living, and power structures in each city. The report determined that data from other cities did “not suggest that a change is salary is warranted” for Boston authorities.

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The analysis also scrutinized the duties and authority of Boston’s mayor and city councilors, and ranked them among their peers in the other 10 cities.

“Boston’s mayor is the most powerful and its City Council is the second-least powerful,” the board concluded in a letter outlining the findings. “This might suggest again that there is little reason to raise the council’s pay although it provides some justification for increasing the mayor’s salary.”

The compensation board also sought to rebut several other arguments in support of a raise that had been made by councilors. Some council members have suggested, for example, that they should receive the same pay increases that unionized municipal workers have enjoyed over the last decade. The report noted, however, that because the City Council must approve collective bargaining contracts it would “create a stark conflict of interest” to link their pay to union raises.


Meghan E. Irons of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Andrew Ryan can be reached at andrew.ryan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.