The pay for some elected offices in Cranston appears poised to increase when the next term begins in January 2021, although the hikes are smaller than what had initially been proposed.
The City Council’s Finance Committee, on 5-2 votes, approved a pair of amended proposals that would boost the pay of the next mayor from $80,765 to $105,000, increase the compensation for council members from $4,000 to $6,000 and raise the council president’s pay from $5,000 to $8,000.
The mayoral salary proposal initially sought an increase to $125,000 as well as an annual 2½ percent cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA. The council pay proposal at first called for members to receive $8,000 and the president to get $10,000.
The annual adjustment for the mayor’s office was removed on a 7-0 vote through an amendment from Citywide Councilman Ken Hopkins – “I think we should set a salary and live with it,” he said – while the salary figure was set at $105,000 on a 5-2 vote after other amounts, including $110,000 and $107,575, were considered.
Hopkins joined Council President Michael Farina, Ward 2 Councilman Paul McAuley, Ward 4 Councilman Ed Brady and Ward 6 Councilman Michael Favicchio in the majority on all of the 5-2 votes. Ward 3 Councilman John Donegan and Ward 5 Councilman Chris Paplauskas were the dissenters.
Daniel Parrillo, director of administration for Mayor Allan Fung, said during discussion that the administration agreed with the amendments to eliminate COLAs and reduce the increased salary figure to $105,000.
The mayor – who is prevented from seeking reelection in 2020 due to term limits and would not be affected by the pay increase – had been sharply critical of the original proposal and pledged to veto it.
The mayoral pay proposal was sponsored by Favicchio – who chairs the Finance Committee – and McAuley. Favicchio said the issue has been under discussion and on his radar for several years, and that he and McAuley enlisted Assistant City Solicitor Evan Kirshenbaum to research and draft the proposal.
Favicchio noted that many other city and school department employees – and the chief executives of a number of other communities – are paid more than Cranston’s mayor.
“I just think the CEO of the city shouldn’t be in the 40 to 50 percent range of the salaries in the city,” he said.
Kirshenbaum addressed the council and said that the $125,000 figure had been reached based on his research of compensation provided to chief executives in other cities and towns. The $100,000 salary for Warwick’s mayor became a frequently cited benchmark during the debate.
“No council member suggested the [$125,000] number … I didn’t try to compare it to the private sector. In other words, I simply took the economics of what other mayors, or other people in comparable positions, make, and I applied it to this,” he said.
Kirshenbaum said the last city ordinance amendment regarding the mayor’s pay was approved in 1999. It provided for 2½ percent annual increases until 2002, when the salary reached its current level. He said at present, the Cranston mayor’s pay “ranks well below” the compensation for comparable positions elsewhere.
The COLA element of the proposal was carried over from the 1999 amendment, but Kirshenbaum said he would instead recommend tying future increases to the Consumer Price Index, or CPI, which he called a less “arbitrary” reference point.
McAuley – who also cosponsored the council pay increase, which was introduced by Farina – said he has “taken a great deal of heat” from constituents since the measure’s introduction but felt the mayors pay “needed to be addressed.”
Regarding the $125,000 figure that was originally proposed, he said: “That number, I didn’t have in mind, nor did I have the COLAs in mind.”
“I don’t want to go from $80,000 to $125,000,” he said. “Even if it does look justified on paper, I could never, never sell this to my constituents. They would be up in arms, as they are right now … I think the reasonable number is $105,000. It puts us above the Warwick threshold, and I think it’s a reasonable impact on the city.”
Opponents of the pay increase spoke of other priorities and of the city’s broader economic picture.
Donegan said he and Citywide Councilman Steve Stycos plan to introduce an ordinance that would establish a $12.75 minimum wage for city workers. He said currently, 108 municipal employees earn less than $15 an hour, and directing the money proposed for the mayoral and council increases toward that plan would raise the pay of 71 part-time employees and two full-time workers to the $12.75 figure.
Donegan also said that according to most recent U.S. Census Bureau data, the median household income in Cranston is approximately $64,000.
“I don’t think that the idea of a [mayoral] raise is egregious or there’s an ill intent there,” he said. “I think it’s a reasonable conversation to have. I just would rather see the money go elsewhere.”
Paplauskas said he would keep “an open mind” on the issue ahead of the full council’s meeting later this month, but he called the mayoral pay raise a “big ask.”
“I have trouble increasing [the mayor’s pay] 30 percent when we just had a tax increase,” he said.
Stycos – who does not sit on the Finance Committee but took part in Monday’s discussion – said while a “small increase” could be considered, he views the roughly $80,000 salary figure as one many people in the city would be “really, really happy” to receive. He also referenced the city’s median income – noting that “there are a lot of people who make, as a family, less than $80,000” – and the city employees “at the bottom of the pay scale” who are too often forgotten.
Stycos additionally called the pay increase a “mistake” for broader reasons.
“People are very skeptical of this pay raise. They’re very critical of it,” he said. “We’re at a time where I think our democracy is really under fire … I think this kind of big jump reinforces the opinion that people have that those of us in government are just in it for our own benefit.”
Others, however, framed the mayoral salary increase as a long overdue measure needed to ensure the best candidates find the position attractive.
Brady said he believes the city has been “very lucky” to have Fung serve as mayor for the last decade at the current salary.
“I am a firm believer, owning many businesses, that you get what you pay for … I do think the mayor is grossly underpaid,” Brady said.
He added: “It’s a very competitive economy, and in my opinion, that’s how this needs to be looked at.”
Farina – who motioned to set the proposed mayoral salary at $105,000 – said he agrees with Donegan and Stycos that the officials should consider increases for workers at the lower end of the city’s pay scale.
But he said the mayoral pay increase is needed – calling $105,000 a “fair number” – and he urged future councils not to let as much time elapse between such reviews.
“This is not a raise. This is an adjustment to the salary of the next mayor of Cranston … We are two decades away from the last revision of this salary,” he said. “It makes sense to revise it. A lot of things change after 20 years.”
Discussion of the council pay increases went much more quickly.
Farina said he had introduced the proposal after learning of the mayoral pay measure, believing it would be valuable to address both issues at the same time. The council’s pay, he noted, has not been increase since the early 1980s.
Unlike Kirshenbaum’s review of the mayoral salary, he said, there was “little science” behind his initial suggestion for the council increases.
Farina said based on “counsel” from Stycos, he would seek to amend the proposal to provide for the smaller council pay increases. Both the amendment and the full proposal passed on 5-2 votes.
Paplauskas said while serving on the council is “probably the fullest part-time job” someone can hold, he opposed the pay increase for the same reasons he cited during the mayoral pay discussion.
Donegan was also opposed. He said during his campaign for council, “I didn’t know we got paid until someone mentioned it.”
Favicchio said increasing the pay for council members could make running for office more accessible to some members of the community.
“It’s a lot of work. It takes a lot of time away … If they’re losing money by doing it, it makes it very difficult for some people,” he said.
Brady and Farina both pointed to the frequency of uncontested races in recent elections and said increasing the council’s pay could help draw more candidates.
Stycos called the smaller increases “reasonable.”
“It is a lot of work to be on the City Council,” he said.
No members of the public spoke during Monday’s hearing on the pay increases, and Council Chambers were largely empty during the Finance Committee’s discussion.
On social media, the increases have drawn a largely negative reaction. Several commenters have noted that members of the Cranston School Committee receive no compensation, and some called for the increases to be put before voters for approval.