METHUEN — Central District Councilor James McCarty is bringing forward a proposal Monday night to more than double city councilors' salaries in the next two years.
The request comes as the city continues to grapple with the fallout from a fiscal year 2018 school department deficit — which has now resulted in borrowing $4 million and state financial oversight — as well as an ongoing dispute over police pay.
While McCarty has been behind some of the largest attacks on the mayor's budget proposals, and is consistently one of the first to suggest budget cuts, the freshman councilor said he's moving forward with his request for a raise now simply to get the ball rolling for the future. His proposal wouldn't take effect until the next council takes their seats on Jan. 1, 2020.
McCarty argued Monday afternoon that the salary to serve on the Methuen City Council hasn't kept up with the times, particularly when it comes to paying for health care costs.
City councilors currently earn stipends based on their rank. The chairperson earns $6,000 per year, the vice chairperson $5,400, and the other seven members $4,800.
Those salaries, outlined in the city's municipal code, were last updated in 1988. In the intervening years, Methuen's population has mushroomed to upward of 50,000 residents, and health care costs continue to rise year after year.
The freshman councilor noted that after subtracting the cost of his city-provided health care, his monthly stipend of $400 was reduced to $4.69. Next year, assuming another bump in health care costs, McCarty said he'd be “paying out of pocket to be a councilor.”
“We've come to a point where the City Council stipend no longer covers a health care premium, which is pretty crazy,” McCarty said.
McCarty's proposal would see the council chairperson earning a stipend of $15,000 per year. The vice chairperson would earn $13,500 and the other councilors would be compensated with $12,000 per year. That would raise McCarty's monthly pay to $1,000 from $400.
“The main reason why I'm bringing it forward is the health care costs,” McCarty said. “After not addressing this for 30 years, it's now come to a head where it no longer covers the cost of health care.”
It was not immediately clear how many councilors use the city's health care plan.
McCarty said he came up with his figures after surveying 20 communities with similar forms of government, comparing population size and average pay calculated from municipal budgets.
The freshman councilor hopes his proposal at Monday night's City Council meeting will spur a larger discussion on the topic and wants to glean input from the public before moving forward.
McCarty said his plan wouldn't place additional strain on the budget as the city seeks to right its finances.
“We won't see the full impact of this measure until fiscal year 2021, so this actually isn't going to strain out the budget for this year or really next year. We're talking like two budgets down the road,” McCarty said.
At that point, the city will have “new contracts and we'll have a year of state oversight, so I think by fiscal 2021 we should be in a good place,” he said.
A full report will appear in Tuesday's edition of The Eagle-Tribune.
Follow Lisa Kashinsky on Twitter @lisakashinsky.