, Newburyport, MA

June 17, 2013

No justification for raises for mayor, council

Newburyport Daily News

---- — To the editor:

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry after reading Amesbury Municipal Council President Anne Ferguson’s comments in “Big raises proposed for mayor, council” in the June 6 edition of The Daily News. Her justification for more than doubling councilors’ stipend to $7,500 and giving the mayor a 21 percent raise was “elected officials don’t earn enough to make up for all the work the job entails.” She goes on to complain about all the “events they must attend, stationary and postage.” I think I feel a tear welling up for poor Councilor Ferguson.

For what it’s worth, serving on a municipal council is considered public service. It was never intended to be a career move, at least until now. You’re not supposed to break even. Look at New Hampshire’s legislature, it’s the largest state legislature in the U.S. and the fourth-largest English-speaking legislative body in the world. Yet they earn $200 per two-year term. You don’t hear them whining about their pay, the cost of stamps or having to attend events. It’s considered a privilege, not an entitlement.

Lastly, I’d like to point out that in the real world, people don’t get pay raises simply because they think they deserve more. Honestly, who among us doesn’t feel we deserve a raise? Except for union workers whose raises are largely contractual, the rest of the real world get pay increases based on four fundamental metrics: performance, the pay of similar jobs in similar businesses, number of qualified applicants and whether the company can afford to give the raise.

It’s interesting that author Mac Cerullo conspicuously omits any comparisons of salaries with that of mayors and councilors in similar communities. There’s no shortage of folks running for office in Amesbury, and the mayor’s performance has been abysmal to say the least (stratospheric tax rate, subpar schools, declining infrastructure, declining population and declining school enrollment). Reduced demand for Amesbury housing resulted in a $60 million loss in home equity last year. And for this, a proposed 21 percent raise for the mayor? You’ve got to be kidding me.

Here’s a radical proposal; instead of comparing the mayor’s pay with that of an overpaid, albeit very nice police chief (Amesbury’s police chief makes $160,630/year, population 16,450, 13.7 square miles versus Newton’s police chief makes only $116,692 with population 85,945 and 18 square miles), how about comparing the mayor’s salary with that of other similarly sized, well-run Massachusetts communities? It’s not going to tell you what you want to hear, but at least it will be a realistic and honest comparison. Amesbury’s beleaguered taxpayers deserve nothing less.

Kenneth Pinette