Methuen Mayor Stephen Zanni’s 2015 city budget has a number of proposals that are worth serious consideration by the City Council. Included in the $78.2 million spending plan is a proposal to add firefighters in an effort to reduce overtime.

That certainly merits discussion. Public safety is a basic municipal function. Even with the additional firefighters, the Fire Department budget would only increase 0.4 percent.

Less worthy of consideration is Zanni’s proposal to give himself a 25-percent raise.

Zanni wants to increase the salary of the mayor’s position from $80,000 to $100,000 a year. The difference between Zanni’s request and similar recent pay hikes for municipal leaders is that most such raises take effect after an intervening election. Zanni’s $20,000 raise would be effective July 1 when the new budget year begins.

“I did a study of other communities of similar size,” Zanni said. “In addition, there are different department heads at a higher salary even than what I’m asking.”

The pay hike for a sitting mayor sends terrible messages to taxpayers and public employees alike.

To taxpayers, it indicates a mayor who is not serious about being a careful steward of their money. Many Methuen taxpayers who are working in the private sector have gone years without raises themselves, all the while seeing the cost of municipal government go ever higher. Taxes have stretched their personal finances to the breaking point. Now, their mayor complains that he is not being paid enough.

Mayor Zanni ran for and was elected to a post that pays $80,000 per year. He ought to be satisfied with that amount.

Zanni’s pay hike further undercuts his ability to negotiate with public employee unions and make any effort to keep salaries and benefits in check. If a 25-percent pay increase is good enough for the mayor, why is it not also good enough for city employees?

Personnel costs are the biggest part of municipal budgets and salaries are just the beginning. Health care and pension costs add significantly to the bottom line. The biggest dollar increases in the 2015 budget are in employee pensions, up by $778,010 or 8.9 percent, and health insurance, up $640,828 or 5.5 percent. Methuen’s contribution to Greater Lawrence Technical High School would increase by $577,561, or 19.5 percent.

The Fire Department budget would come in $9.12 million with an increase of just $38,385, or 0.4 percent. The additional firefighters would allow the department to cut the overtime budget by $300,000.

Police Department spending would increase $407,051, or 3.4 percent. According to Chief Joseph Solomon, four patrolman positions would be removed from the budget and covered by federal grants. A vacant captain’s position would be cut.

Zanni argues that his overall budget is increasing by just about 3 percent and will have a “minimal impact” on the city’s tax rate. The School Department’s budget proposal has not yet been submitted, but Zanni said he expects it will increase about 2 percent over the current $77 million. The combined city and school budgets still place a hefty demand on Methuen’s taxpayers.

The City Council needs to give Zanni’s budget -- particularly the pay increase for the mayor -- careful scrutiny.

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