[Editor's Note: The article has been updated to clarify former Mayor Bonfanti's refusal to accept a pay raise and the council's actions in that regard.]
City councilor Dave Gamache has been trying for the past 12 years and he finally has a mayor now who appears open to receiving a pay raise.
The City Council voted Thursday night to hike the mayor's base pay to $105,000, which is just over a 10 percent increase from the current $94,933 salary and will mean Mayor Ted Bettencourt will now earn the same or slightly more than his many of his senior department heads.
The new salary will take effect once the ordinance is adopted, likely next month.
Gamache says the higher salary is long overdue, especially given that all other city employees have received regular raises in that time, and better reflects what other area mayors earn.
"If the mayor took the...same amount given to unions since 2001, his salary would be $121,000," said Gamache. "I think mayor should be at least one of the top ten paid employees."
He called the situation "absurd" as the mayor is responsible for hundreds of city employees and a $140 million budget while .
"It used to only be the superintendent who made more than the mayor, but now all sorts of other employees do and that’s just not right," said Jim Liacos.
Former Mayor Michael Bonfanti routinely refused to accept a pay raise each year, citing a desire to set an example during tight financial times. Correspondingly, a majority of the council could never agree to give him a raise anyway, although Gamache tried.
And now, Bettencourt is slated for a raise after his first year on the job. Bettencourt was not present for the vote Thursday night and could still choose to decline a raise as well.
"You know, there never seems to be a good time to talk about increasing salaries in the public sector. It seems like it’s always a bad time," remarked Dave Gravel, who's also a local business owner. "Whatever your job is, you have to be compensated fairly."
Mike Garabedian agreed. "One hundred five thousand is still not enough for the chief executive of the city, but it’s a start," he said.
Garabedian said the council should set aside a certain percentage increase each year for the mayor regardless of whether he accepts it so that large adjustments aren't needed again in the future.
"Ten years later, it should not be $105,000 when the whole world’s making $180,000," he said.
The vote, as in the past, wasn't unanimous among councilors at 8-2 (Bob Driscoll was absent). Both Rico Mello and Anne Manning-Martin opposed handing out raises.
Manning-Martin said Bettencourt worked "his tail off" in his first year and her vote did not reflect his job performance.
"It's more a reflection on the economy and the struggles people are going through," she said. "There should be a correction made in the mayor’s salary, but I don’t think this is the time to do it."
The larger salary does place Bettencourt squarely among his North Shore peers -- Beverly Mayor Bill Scanlon earned $106,047 in 2011 and has received pay raises in recent years while Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll's salary is $100,000. It was only a few years ago that her salary was bumped up $20,000.
Lynn Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy currently earns $82,500, but that's due to a dispute over how the mayor's salary is set. The Daily Item of Lynn reports the Lynn City Council last voted on that salary in 1998 and since then the mayor has been considered a department head with a negotiated salary and other perks.
Councilors and school board members get a raise too
Twelve years ago was also the last time Peabody city councilors gave themselves a raise and Gamache thought that was long overdue as well. Liacos, a former School Committee member, said it was only fair if school board members got a bump too (they've been waiting since 1998).
Councilors voted 7-3 (Gravel, Manning-Martin and Mello all said "no") to increase their salaries to 9 percent of the mayor's salary, starting in 2014, and give school board members an $1,100 raise. They will now earn $5,100 for their service while councilors will earn about $9,450 (up from $7,466).
Until now, the council's salary was not tied to the mayor's, but the majority of councilors agreed with Gamache to keep their salary now at 9 percent of the mayor's pay going forward.
Gamache noted Salem councilors receive 10 percent of their mayor's salary and Beverly councilors receive about $12,000 while Lynn and Revere councilors earn around $15,000.
"Not one of us in this council chamber took this job for the money," Garabedian said.
Peabody councilors also receive an $1,800 stipend and have access to city health insurance.
Mello did offer his own amendment to the motion to instead tie councilors' salaries to changes in property taxes -- if taxes increased by a certain percentage councilors' salaries should correspondingly decrease or vice versa.
Mello was the only one to vote for his proposal.