|By G. Michael Dobbs|
CHICOPEE Speaking before the Jan. 22 meeting of the Board of Aldermen, Alderman James Tillotson predicted the raises approved by the Ordinance Committee on Jan. 15 would pass.
Tillotson told Reminder Publications there were 10 of the 13 members of the board present at the meeting and all were in consensus for the increases in the salaries of the mayor, treasurer, assessors, clerk, collector, School Committee and Board of Aldermen.
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At the Jan. 15 meeting, Mayor Michael Bissonnette called for the board to summon up the "political courage" to raise the salaries of elected officials.
Bissonnette presented board members with a comparison of the population of Chicopee and neighboring towns and the pay levels of their officials. Of Agawam, Easthampton, Greenfield, Holyoke, Northampton, Pittsfield, Westfield and West Springfield, only Easthampton pays its mayor a lower salary than Chicopee.
An independent committee, which included Elms College President Dr. James Mullen and officials from the Chicopee Chamber of Commerce, had recommended raises for all elected officials
Tillotson pointed out that many of the communities might be smaller in size than Chicopee -- the region's second largest -- but the per capita income is less in Chicopee than in other cities. He expressed concern that Chicopee taxpayers could not afford a substantial round of municipal raises.
The independent report recommended the mayor's salary be increased to $105,000 from its present $65,000. Bissonnette had asked for $95,000 in his executive order. Bissonnette explained that it was his goal to raise everyone's pay to a certain level and then in the future ask that elected officials receive the same increase as negotiated with the city's unionized employees.
Alderman Fred Krampits wondered if the pay increases asked by the mayor were fair to non-union department heads.
Bissonnette responded by saying that 170 municipal employees make more that he does, including many department heads and more than 200 make more than the treasurer and the assessors.
"That's unfair and leads to ridicule," Bissonnette said.
Alderman George Moreau said he believes that an incremental approach to the raises is the best way to phase in higher salaries and a large one-time increase "scared people."
The board finally agreed to raise the mayor's salary to $85,000 for July of this year and promised to return to the issue for the next several years raising the pay $5,000 each time until it reaches $110,000.
The board gave other officials raises, but not as much as asked by the mayor or recommended by the independent report. They gave the collector a raise from $49,000 to $60,000; the clerk from $49,000 to $65,000; the assessors from $42,000 to $60,000; the treasurer from $49,000 to $65,000; the School Committee from $5,000 to $6,000 and the vice chair receiving $6,500; and the Board of Aldermen from $10,000 to $12,000 with an additional $1,000 for the president of the board.
The raises, aside from the mayor's and the Board of Aldermen, would be retroactive to Jan. 1. The others would become effective in July.
Tillotson said the raise for the Board of Aldermen was "tougher to justify" as the Board is not as poorly paid as the other positions.
Aside from Springfield City Council, the Chicopee Board of Aldermen will be the highest paid legislative body in the region.