By Brian Messenger
---- — METHUEN — After peaking at $9,700 in August, the city’s legal bills with private firm Kopelman and Paige dropped back below $8,000 in September.
In July, Kopelman and Paige’s first full monthly billing cycle in Methuen, the Boston firm charged the city $7,678 for legal services. The bill then jumped month-over-month by roughly $2,000 in August before returning to $7,779 in September.
Legal expenses have been under heightened scrutiny ever since the City Council voted earlier this year to hire Kopelman and Paige to take over the responsibilities of the vacant city solicitor position.
“We’re still below what it costs to have a solicitor in there and pay his salary, health benefits and pension,” said City Council Chairman Sean Fountain. “Month to month it’s always going to be a bit different. I think it’s worked out great. As long as there’s a savings and we’re getting the right responses and having unbiased decisions, I think it’s a win.”
Former City Solicitor Peter McQuillan earned an annual salary of $113,114 — which breaks down to $9,400 a month but does not include health insurance, longevity pay or retirement benefits.
Methuen has been without a solicitor since June 1. In May, the council voted to hire Kopelman and Paige to assume the duties of the office. The firm charges the city $175 per hour.
Other area clients of the firm include the cities of Newburyport and Amesbury and towns of Georgetown and Groveland.
During his re-election campaign, Mayor Stephen Zanni said he believes the council should hire a full-time solicitor.