Northampton City Council approves pay increases for part-time elected officials



Last modified: Saturday, February 07, 2015

NORTHAMPTON — City councilors and members of the Northampton’s two school committees who win election this fall will earn twice as much for their public service.

In a 6-3 vote Thursday, a majority of the City Council argued that it’s been a quarter century since the council last gave part-time elected officials a raise and that the new stipend brings them up to a level they would be at with inflation increases during that time.

Others said the higher salary may serve to draw interest from more people and lead to more diversity on the all-white council.

“It’s the first council raise in 25 years,” Vice President Jesse M. Adams said. “If the council had received any cost of adjustment raises during that time, we’d be right around $9,000.”

The ordinance approved by the council this week in its final, required vote increases annual pay for councilors who represent individual wards from $5,000 to $9,000, with at-large positions increased to $9,500. The salary of the City Council president would be $10,000. School Committee members and the Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School trustees would be paid $5,000 a year under the proposal, with the at-large positions on the School Committee getting $5,500 a year. All positions now pay $2,500 a year.

The new stipends start Jan. 1, 2016 — after the next municipal election.

The council also approved separate measures increasing the salaries of the mayor and city clerk. Adams notes that the rationale for the pay increases for those full-time elected officials is to ensure that the positions attract qualified candidates. The same thought process should be used for part-time public servants, he said.

“I don’t think it’s any different than for any other elected office,” he said. “By raising salaries, maybe others in the community will decide they can run.”

Voting against the pay hikes were Council President William H. Dwight, Ryan R. O’Donnell of Ward 3 and David A. Murphy of Ward 5.

The decision comes three weeks after the council voted to keep the option of allowing part-time elected officials to enroll in municipal health insurance — against the wishes of an independent panel’s recommendation.

The Elected Officials Advisory Board also recommended nearly doubling salaries of officials, but only when paired with the elimination of heath insurance benefits.

O’Donnell said Friday he did not feel comfortable separating out pieces of the recommendations and would rather have had an up-or-down vote on an entire package of recommendations. He said that’s not good public process, which is part of the reason he voted to keep the status quo and vote against both of the committee’s recommendations.

“The act of splitting it up created difficulty for me,” said O’Donnell.

O’Donnell believes that when the council appoints a future advisory board to study this issue, it should first make a policy decision on whether health benefits should be tied to compensation. He doesn’t believe the two should be linked, and he and other councilors believe that health insurance is a benefit all employees should receive.

In the end, he said he had more concerns about the process than whether elected officials deserve more money for their service.

“I don’t want to stigmatize public service,” he said. “I think that public officials deserve to be compensated adequately.”

Like those who voted in favor of the increases, some in opposition wanted more time to explore changes to the pay system that might promote a deeper and broader participation on the council. Among those were Dwight.

Chad Cain can be reached at ccain@gazettenet.com.


 


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