Mayor Michael Bonfanti has not requested a pay raise in 10 years, but the mayor's office almost received an increase Thursday night before the City Council narrowly rejected a salary increase by a 5-4 vote.
The issue was extensively debated during the Committee of the Whole meeting that immediately preceeded the regular City Council meeting. Ward 5 City Councilor Dave Gamache made a motion to raise the mayor's office salary from $94,000 to $110,000 effective on Jan. 1, 2012, when a newly elected mayor would take office.
Bonfanti previously stated during his mid-term inaugural address in January that he will not seek another two-year term in office so if the council had approved the pay raise, the current mayor would not have benefitted from it. Bonfanti also never sought any pay increases during his tenure in office.
Councilor-at-large Ted Bettencourt, who is running for mayor, said he could not vote to approve a pay increase for the elected office given the recession. But Councilor-at-large James Liacos said the mayor's salary needs to be increased because the mayor has a very demanding job of running the city and its $140 million budget.
"There are now many department heads making more than the mayor," Liacos said. "I think now is the time to make the correction."
He said it was noble of Bonfanti to reject pay raises during the mayor's 10 years in office, but it is important for the city to be on par with what other mayors are making in the region. Liacos said it is "embarassing" that some city department heads actually earn more salary than the mayor.
Ward 1 City Councilor Barry Osborne said it is important to come up with a number that is "fair and equitable." He added the current mayor's salary of $94,000 is "out of whack" given the responsibilities of the job.
Councilor-at-large David Gravel said he could not support the proposed salary increase because it contradicts the city's stance this year to propose a zero percent salary increase for the city's unions and the fact the city may receive $2 million to $3 million less in state aid.
"I just can't see doing it. It just sends the wrong message to the general population," Gravel said.
Councilor-at-large and Council President Anne Manning-Martin felt the council should make a correction in the mayor's salary at some point, but to do it now would be the wrong time given the economic downturn.
The Committee of the Whole voted 5-4 to reject the proposed pay increase for the mayor's office. Ward 3 Councilor Rico Mello, Ward 6 Councilor Barry Sinewitz, Manning-Martin, Bettencourt and Gravel voted against the salary increase. Liacos, Councilor-at-large Michael Garabedian, Gamache, and Osborne voted in favor of it.