City Watchdog Urges Caution in Employee Salaries, Contracts

With the City’s 2018 payroll growing by more than 8 percent over the previous year, one City watchdog is urging caution and a tightening of the reins as this year’s City Budget begins to move forward.

“We offer words of caution as we look now to the Mayor’s budget proposal for FY20 coming out next month and beyond,” said Pam Kocher, the new president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau.

This year’s list of the 2018 Top 70  highest municipal earners appears in this week’s edition of the Sun, and the top regular earner was Fire Commissioner Joe Finn – who came in as the top regular earner at $247,269. He was closely followed by first-year Police Commissioner Willie Gross, who made $255,455 in 2018. Mayor Martin Walsh made the top 20 earners at $191,615, but the bulk of the list is made up of Police and Fire employees – and a large amount of the spending is on things like overtime and newly bargained union contract pay increase.

Overall, the salaries were up by 8.2 percent over 2017, which amounted to $129.3 million more. Total earnings for calendar year 2018 (CY18) were $1.721 billion.

The contract increases were particularly true as it related to contracts recently settled for the Boston Teacher’s Union, City officials said. They said that was a driver of much of the increases in salary spending in 2018, as were increases for contracts settled with public safety unions.

There were a few outliers in the budget that showed much larger salaries than usual, particularly for the top four highest overall earners. Those employees received large settlements and back pay as part of court cases that reinstated them to the Police Department.

Kocher said one of the major areas of concern is the deficits created in overtime spending for the Police and Fire Departments – which ran at $15.3 million in deficit due to those expenses that exceeded their overtime budgets and some equipment purchases.

The Police Department deficit was $14.3 million and 67 percent of that was due to overtime pay for increased hours and special events. Those special events included things like the Freedom Rally, the National Grid Strike and the Marriott worker strike.

That also has to do with the shortage of police officers in the ranks right now as there are so many officers who have retired, and so few that have come on to replace them. Most officers right now, it is commonly said, work upwards of 60 hours a week on average due to the officer shortage.

The growth in police officer wages due to more lucrative contracts also contributed to increased overtime expenses.

Kocher said now is the time to show fiscal restraint.

“At a time when the City has to rely more on its own local revenue sources due to cuts in federal funds and stagnant growth in state aid, the City of Boston needs to be vigilant in managing its employee expenses, which represent 68 percent of its total operating budget in fiscal 2018 and 70 percent of the operating budget’s growth over four years,” she said. “That means exercising tight control over employee headcount, being firm in employee contract negotiations regarding compensation and benefit increases, and improving operational efficiencies through changes in union contract language and utilization of technology.”

Of the Top 100 highest earners, four Police and Fire employees earned more than $40,000 in overtime payments alone over 2018.

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