The City Council voted to give itself a salary increase based on cost of living adjustments (COLA), and will voted to create a resident committee to look at whether to raise the number even more in the future.
The Watertown Charter requires raises for the City Councilors to be approved by a Council vote amending the City Council Salary ordinance.
Under the amendment approved on Jan. 24, Councilors will be paid $8,700 a year beginning on Jan. 1, 2024, up from $7,500, and the Council President’s salary will go from $10,500 up to $12,000. The figures were based on a 2.5 percent annual raise beginning in 2018. The amendments also increase the salaries in 2025 to $8,900 for City Councilors and $12,500 for the President.
In another vote, the Council approved having the Council in the term beginning in 2024 create a blue ribbon residents committee to study the salary and compensation structure for the City Councilors and the Council President. Other items will also be looked at, including cost of health insurance and benefits Councilors can receive.
The Charter also does not allow the Council to raise its salary in the same term, and changes must be approved in the first 18 months of the term. The next Council term begins Jan. 1, 2024, following the November 2023 City Election.
The issue of Council salaries has come up in prior years. From 1999 to 2018 the salaries were $5,000 for Councilors and in 2019 the Council voted to raised it to $7,500. During the Watertown Charter Review in 2021, the issue was raised, with some residents and members of the Charter Commission wanting to increase salaries substantially in part because the hours have increased significantly, and also so that people would not be prevented from running for or serving on the Council due to financial reasons.
Councilor Lisa Feltner estimates that she attends around 120 meetings per year and spends about 260 hours per year at those meetings, she said at a Committee on Personnel and City Organization meeting. That time does not include other parts of the job, including meeting with constituents, creating meeting reports, preparing for meetings, and attending meetings on other subjects.
If Councilors earned the minimum wage, Councilor Caroline Bays said at the Committee meeting that the Council salary would be between $13,800 to $17,250 per year depending on the estimated number of hours worked.
At the Committee meeting, Council President Mark Siders said he would not feel comfortable with such a large pay increase, and suggested using a 2.5 percent cost of living increase.
At the Council meeting, Councilor Palomba said he would like to have seen more of a pay increase.
“I appreciate the additions, but I want to note that I am disappointed that Council is not making minimum wage,” Palomba said. “That is something I and others have supported for a number of years. Other people in town still find it difficult to make ends meet. I think it would have been a nice way to also be paid what minimum wage is.”
Resident Elodia Thomas said that she thinks the salary discussion should have had more research and data behind it.
“Personally, I have no objection to raising Council salaries but I find the information presented tonight is very light weight,” Thomas said. “Having been involved in similar situations in town several years ago , where I did a deep dive, there is no reference to where the data came from, comparisons. It lacks any information.”
See the report on City Council Salaries from the Committee on Personnel and City Organization by clicking here.