Methuen, Mass. - The City of Methuen and the Methuen Police Superiors Union have reached a compromise on the contract that was set to give ranking officers huge raises.
As Boston 25 News first reported in June, each of the city's five police captains were set to earn $434,841 a year, on average, when their new contract went into effect July 1, according to an analysis done by the city auditor. That pay would have made the captains the highest paid officers in the state.
According to public payroll records, Governor Charlie Baker's salary in 2017 was $151,800. Boston Police Commissioner William Evans earned $229,999.90 in 2017. Together, they made $381,799 in 2017, which is less than what one Methuen Police captain stood to earn.
Boston 25 News reviewed the 2017 salaries of the top cops in big cities across the country and found the Methuen Police captains could have become the highest paid officers in the nation.
-San Francisco Police Chief William Scott: $365,540
-Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck: $357,631
-Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo: $280,000
-Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie T. Johnson: $260,004
-Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross: $240,000
-New York City Police Commissioner James O'Neill: $232,352
The big raises were set to come just weeks after the city laid off 52 teachers and 33 other school employees as a result of a $6.5 million budget shortfall.
"I don't know how anybody could vote for a proposal that would put those kinds of numbers on the table," Governor Charlie Baker said when asked about the big pay raises. "Law enforcement has no bigger supporter than me, but there's simply no precedent for the numbers that the folks in Methuen are being paid."
Former Methuen Mayor Stephen Zanni, who oversaw the negotiations last year, told The Eagle Tribune he didn't know about the financial impact. He asked, "Why wasn't I told?" The town auditor, who crunched the numbers on the massive raises, said he did tell Zanni and two other officials.
The issue with the raises stems from the “stacking” of many benefits into officers' base pay – a new method of calculation included in the contracts – that inflates salaries in a way that compounds up the chain of command.
Each rank must earn a certain percentage more than the one below it. The sergeants’ base pay is increased to include their benefits, which is then used to calculate the base pay of the lieutenants, who then in turn would have their benefits added in when calculating the pay for captains. The “stacking effect” can lead to astronomically high salaries for the highest-ranking and longest-serving officers in the department.
Current Methuen Mayor James Jajuga said during a city council meeting he was handed the budget shortfall when he took office in January, but voted in favor of the contract last fall as a city councilor. In fact, the city council voted unanimously to approve the contract.
Mayor Jajuga's son is one of the city's police captains who stood to benefit from the pay raises. Mayor Jajuga had his chief of staff, Paul Fahey, take part in the recent contract discussions to avoid a conflict of interest.
The new agreement reached Tuesday is the result of multiple meetings, both formal and informal.
"We are confident that the agreement is in the best interest of both parties, as it provides the City with needed relief from its contractual liabilities, while at the same time it recognizes and compensates its police supervisors for the dangerous challenges unique to their occupation," Methuen Mayor's Chief of Staff Paul Fahey said in a statement.
The city and union will be finalizing the agreement in the coming days. The specifics of the agreement were not immediately clear.
The contract has been a major issue affecting the city’s fiscal year 2019 budget.
Mayor Jajuga told the city councilors Tuesday night he will have a fully revised budget for them review at a special meeting next Tuesday, July 17. He said no further delays would be needed.
The city council voted on June 27 to approve a partial 2019 budget that would allow the city to operate on a month-to-month budget based on 2018 budget appropriations.
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