Kezer said he couldn’t comment specifically on the Pioneer Institute data since he hadn’t seen it, but he speculated Amesbury’s reduction in staff levels over the past few years may have impacted the numbers, by reducing the number of lower-paid workers.
He also argued that many communities in Essex County have smaller public safety departments than Amesbury, which would mean fewer highly paid police and fire officials.
“When you’re looking at Essex County community averages, predominantly you have small communities that really don’t have much of a police department and fire department,” Kezer said. “So if you don’t have full-time fire or a sufficient staff of police, and all you have is the administrative folks in the Town Hall, that’s going to skew your numbers.”
There are 34 communities in Essex County, and Amesbury’s population of 16,300 sits near the higher end of the population spectrum. There are 19 communities with smaller populations.
Amesbury and Newburyport have near identical populations — Newburyport’s is about 1,000 residents larger — and their police and fire departments are almost the same size.
There is evidence in the Pioneer Institute’s data to suggest that Amesbury’s reduction in staff over the past several years may have impacted the numbers. In 2005, the city employed 307 workers, but in the years that followed, especially during the height of the recession, about 50 jobs were eliminated, most through layoffs. It’s most common for layoffs to be done by seniority, with higher-paid, longer-term employees being retained.
Amesbury’s rise in public employee average earnings follows a similar upward trend. Notably, when 24 city employees were laid off between 2009 and 2010, the city’s average earnings jumped from $39,000 to $45,000, which was a larger increase than Amesbury’s total increase between 2005 and 2009, when employment levels were mostly stable.
Layoffs do not fully explain the most recent increase in average earnings, however. From 2011 to 2012, Amesbury’s workforce only decreased by 12 people, but during that same period the average earnings increased from $45,000 to $52,600. The Pioneer Institute data does not provide an explanation for the increase.
Meanwhile, Essex County’s average salaries have been rising steadily despite employment levels remaining flat. Both Newburyport’s average salaries and its employment levels have been relatively consistent.