Last year, Amesbury’s average earnings were higher than all but one of the 15 Essex County communities that aren’t a part of the Essex Regional system, according to PERAC’s 2012 annual report. Peabody was at the top of the list ($53,000), but Amesbury ranked ahead of communities like Andover ($49,100), Gloucester ($45,700), Haverhill ($40,800), Lawrence ($42,500) and Methuen ($48,800).
By comparison, Amesbury’s average earnings of $34,500 in 2005 were the fourth lowest among that same group. Only Haverhill, Lawrence and Swampscott had lower average salaries than Amesbury at that point, and since then the city has moved up 10 spots on the list.
Kezer also bristled at the comparison to Newburyport, whose average employee earnings is $41,400 compared to Amesbury’s $52,600. He argued that while Amesbury’s average is higher, Newburyport has about 100 more employees and a total payroll $1.6 million higher than Amesbury despite the same level of service.
“From my perspective, what matters to the taxpayers the most is where is the end dollar,” Kezer said. “So the mere fact that I can run a city the same size as our neighbors with the same level of service, and can have a payroll that is $1.6 million less, that’s an incredible success story.”
The figures in question come from MassPensions.com, a new website launched last week by the Pioneer Institute. The website gathers most of its data from the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission, which said its annual reports are based on the calendar year and take both salaries and benefits into account when compiling employee salary data.
Kezer disputed the benefit aspect, arguing that many things like health care wouldn’t have been taken into account since they normally don’t fall within PERAC’s purview.
“PERAC has nothing to do with health insurance and stipends; all these numbers are driven from that portion of the salary that’s eligible for pension calculations,” Kezer said. “That’s all that is, and that’s why I question what their definition of benefits is.”