GEORGETOWN — A 49 percent raise for Fire Chief Fred Mitchell Jr. is justified because the town "got a great deal" and "a bargain" when it hired him three years ago, selectmen said.
Mitchell, 51, a Rhode Island native, was hired in October 2015 at $63,359 with a contract that boosted his pay annually at 3 percent per year. Mitchell finished the contract in June earning $67,218.
His new contract that began July 1 pays him $100,000 per year with a 3 percent raise annually for the next three years. That's a raise of $32,782, or 49 percent.
Some Georgetown residents have been speaking out about the size of the raise for Mitchell. Selectmen defend the deal saying it brings Mitchell's pay in line with that of chiefs leading fire departments in similar communities.
The Board of Selectmen approved the new deal in the spring after a presentation of a draft of the contract. There was no mention during the meeting of the amount of the raise.
Chairman Joseph Bonavita, Douglas Dawes and Steven Sadler voted in favor of the raise, while Selectman Gary Fowler voted against it.
During the meeting, Sadler said the town had been getting Mitchell at a bargain price for the last three years.
"I think we can all agree we got a great deal when he came here," Sadler said. "It may seem like a steep increase. ... It is, because we paid a discount for him when he came on board. So he's up to market right now. We've reviewed other towns, we've looked at what other chiefs make, and I think he's in line now, as well he should be."
Fowler referred to the chief's proposed raise as a "rather large pay increase," and said he was expecting to meet in executive session to discuss the contract but that meeting never took place.
Sadler responded saying the fire chief gave his permission to discuss the contract in open session. Mitchell attended the meeting.
Bonavita said pay comparisons were made with a number of local communities, including Boxford, Groveland, Ipswich and Rowley.
"When you have someone that is very involved in the community ... and obviously has the talent to get this job done, and done well, you bring him up to speed on comparable salaries," Bonavita said. "The salary itself, it is inline with studies that have been done. This is not out of whack. Drastic increase yes, but only because we had such a bargain for the first three years of his tenure."
Fowler responded during the spring meeting saying he supported the chief, but would not support the pay increase.
"There are other ramifications to this type of an increase that scare me," Fowler said.
Last week, Bonavita told The Eagle-Tribune that keeping Mitchell's salary at its previous level was not an option. If Mitchell had decided to leave Georgetown, the job would have been posted at a higher rate, he said.
"His (Mitchell's) contract was up and he knew his worth as he did his research, as well," Bonavita said. "There were discussions around what chiefs are paid – so keeping his salary the same was not an option. He would never have stayed for a 2 or 3 percent increase."
Bonavita said that since Mitchell's contract was approved, he has not received any feedback from the community about it.
He said that not mentioning Mitchell's pay increase at spring meeting was "an oversight."
"We do our best to make sure the town has what it needs and when it comes to the fire chief," he added, saying that"1,000 percent we did the right thing."
Mitchell told The Eagle-Tribune that he enjoys being part of Georgetown's community and that he welcomes residents to stop by his office to chat with him about his work, and even his contract, which he said is a public document available for review.
"I've met a lot of nice people and I like it up here," Mitchell said. "If anyone has any questions, please stop by and see me."