Top Providence officials could see pay raises under panel’s recommendations

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Some of Providence’s highest-ranking officials – including the mayor, every member of the City Council and the chiefs of the police and fire departments – could be in line for pay raises under a proposal set to be put forth by a panel reviewing salaries in city government.

Providence’s five-member Salary Review Commission does not have the power to enact pay increases for any city employees, but it is expected to vote and forward a report outlining its recommendations to the City Council next week. The council has the final say over any pay scale changes.

Among the commission’s tentative recommendations:

  • The top pay step for the mayor would be $150,000 a year, up from $143,000;
  • The maximum salary for a rank-and-file City Council member would increase from $20,704 a year to $25,000, with the majority and minority leaders capped at $27,500 and the council president topping out at $30,000;
  • Municipal court judges would see their maximum salary grow from $47,871 a year to $55,000, with the chief judge topping out at $65,000;
  • The chief judge of the Housing Court would have a maximum annual pay of $75,000, up from $60,000. The Probate Court judge would also be capped at $75,000;
  • The public safety commissioner’s maximum salary would increase from $161,000 a year to $200,000;
  • The chiefs of the police and fire departments would max out at $175,000 a year, up from $166,000 for the fire chief and $148,000 for the police chief.

Most of the employees in the positions reviewed by the commission currently earn less than their maximum salary allows. For example, Mayor Jorge Elorza is paid $112,500 a year, about $30,000 less than he is eligible to earn. Councilors are also paid less their current top step.

The Salary Review Commission was established after voters approved the city’s Home Rule Charter in 1980 to make recommendations on the salaries of the mayor, council, all department heads and members of some boards and commissions. The unpaid board members are appointed by the mayor, confirmed by the council and cannot hold elected or appointed office or be employed by the city, according to the charter.

The charter allows the commission to make salary recommendations no more often than every two years, but it hasn’t submitted new guidelines since 2011. Current members include Chairman Robert Ricci, Vice Chair Garry Bliss, Thomas Glavin, Everin Perez and Donna Andrews. (Ricci, Bliss and Glavin are all former city employees, and Glavin was a member of the council.)

Under the charter, councilors aren’t allowed to raise the salary scale for themselves or the mayor in the current term, so any pay changes for those positions wouldn’t take effect until 2019. Elorza and most members of the council have said they plan to run for reelection next year. The incumbent mayor hasn’t lost reelection since 1974 and only two incumbent councilors have lost their seats since 2010.

Acting Council President Sabina Matos said this week she will allow the council to consider raising the salary scale of elected officials.

The commission has met five times since May, discussing salary options with the city’s head of human resources and reviewing pay scales of other New England cities.

At a meeting this week to discuss recommendations, most of the proposed increases generated little discussion. On council salaries, Glavin noted that members “put in an awful lot of time and work very hard.” Historically, he said, the council president and the majority and minority leaders have typically been paid the same amount, but he indicated he wouldn’t oppose a slightly higher pay scale for the president.

“Council people work around the clock,” Ricci said. “It’s a seven-day-a-week job. When it snows, they’re out in the middle of the night and everything else. And if they’re not, then they probably won’t get re-elected. So it’s a very demanding position.”

The longest debate of the meeting came when the commission discussed the potential salary of the fire chief. The city hasn’t had a chief of the department in more than two years, and some officials have suggested the salary limitations have made the position difficult to fill.

Theresa Agonia, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff, told the committee the maximum salary for the fire chief has been a challenge for the last two administrations. She said $175,000 might not be enough.

“I think this is the one position that two administrations have had trouble filling at the current salary range,” Agonia said.

Bliss noted that the maximum a fire chief in Worcester, Massachusetts, can be paid is $210,000. He recommended raising the police and fire chief’s top salaries to $200,000, but other members said they would support $175,000.

Glavin said he supports keeping the police and fire chief at the same top salary, but “I don’t see any reason to increase” it to $200,000.

“This isn’t Monopoly money here,” he said. “And I think we have to be a little realistic.”

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Dan McGowan (dmcgowan@wpri.com) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan