METHUEN — Methuen residents turned out in force Monday night to protest the hefty raises given to superior officers in the Police Department.

A contract that was negotiated under former Mayor Stephen Zanni would have given police captains salaries of about $430,000 per year. The current mayor, James Jajuga, directed his chief of staff, Paul Fahey, to renegotiate the agreement.

That resulted in a memorandum of understanding that would give the superior officers an 18 percent raise in the first year, then 7 percent the following year, according to residents who picketed in front of City Hall.  

"When was the last time you got an 18 percent raise?" asked Ryan DiZoglio, who ran for City Council last year and joined people on the picket line who held signs protesting the contract.

David Copley said he and others opposing the pay raises are not against the police officers.

"If I could give them a million dollars a year, I would," he told the City Council. The city, however, cannot sustain the raises for the officers, he said.

"The taxpayers need to be represented," he said, drawing applause from the 50 to 60 people who sat in the council chambers.

"The whole city should be here," said Kevin Adametz. On a recent trip to California, he said, he met a man who knew about the raises the Methuen police captains received.

Speaking to the City Council, Jajuga strongly defended his approach to the problem.

"I was stuck" with the huge raises, he said.

Jajuga noted the council approved eight contracts last year, including the pact for the superior officers. Jajuga was a member of the council at that time.

Both he and Council Chairwoman Jennifer Kannan noted Zanni estimated the impact of the contracts would be a real estate tax increase of about $50 for the average household.

The number ended up being three times that high, Kannan said.

"What we were told was wrong," Jajuga said. Councilors were told raises would be 0, 2 and 2 percent, he recalled.

"We believed the then-mayor," he said. The superior officers' salaries, however, were increased by the "stacking" of benefits.

Jajuga said his team worked out a deal with the union, but the council told him to "go back and negotiate."

Jajuga said he welcomes an investigation by the state.

"I hope they find out what happened," he said.

Much of residents' anger has been directed at Jajuga.

"I'm kind of tired of taking the abuse," he said. His son, James Jajuga Jr., is one of the police captains.

The mayor said he hasn't done anything to advance his son's career.

"I am proud of my son," he said. The younger Jajuga passed the exams to become a police officer, then gain promotion to sergeant, lieutenant and finally captain, "on his own," the mayor said. He also passed the bar exam to become a lawyer the first time he took that test "on his own," he added.

The council did not take action on the memorandum of understanding Monday night. Councilors agreed to postpone action until East District Councilor Steve Saba, who was absent, is present.

"I don't think the votes are there," Central District Councilor James McCarty said. Jajuga chided McCarty and other councilors for voting to prune $1.8 million from the police budget.

"You're going to have to answer for that," he said. "You cut too much."

Jajuga said he may be forced to issue pink slips to police officers because of that action. The Civil Service Commission, he said, will not approve of the layoffs.

Councilor at Large Jessica Finocchiaro said there has been a "lack of communication" and said she was "disappointed" Jajuga blamed the council for the problem.

"It's our problem," she said.