The $100,000 club
On 5 local public payrolls, top-tier membership is not so exclusive
Who says public service doesn’t pay? In a number of communities south of Boston, between 3 and 5 percent of all municipal employees pull in $100,000 or more in their jobs, according to an informal Globe survey.
The ranks of the highly paid are usually dominated by employees in the local school system and police department, with a variable sprinkling of firefighters and top municipal officials, according to 2011 payroll records from Brockton, Duxbury, Hingham, Stoughton, and Weymouth.
Local leaders say paying top dollar — especially for administrative officials — is not unusual in communities competing for the best professionals in the business.
“Hingham has always tried to position itself by offering competitive salaries,” said Town Administrator Theodore C. Alexiades, who is paid $146,597, among the top five earners in his town. “We believe in paying fairly and working hard. Our people earn those paychecks.”
The pay scale for upper-level educators and top municipal staff is set by industry practices; superintendents, town managers, and principals all compete for jobs offering comparable pay levels, officials say. Local police officers, meanwhile, more often hit and surpass the $100,000 mark by supplementing base salaries with tens of thousands of dollars in overtime shifts or road details paid for by outside vendors.
“On the police side, I can tell you that is the standard,” Alexiades said. “It is not uncommon to see patrolmen making more than the police chief because they are putting in 60- to 80-hour work weeks. I don’t think it is reasonable to criticize people for working what they have in front of them.”
Yet it is useful for taxpayers to keep an eye on high public salaries, said Carolyn Ryan, policy analyst at the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.
“It is always good to look at salary information in detail, because the bulk of local government money — two-thirds to three-quarters of spending — is driven by personnel costs for police, fire, education,” Ryan said.
In Duxbury, 30 town employees — about 3 percent of payroll personnel — earned six-figure salaries last year in the affluent seaside community of about 15,000.
Nearly half of Duxbury’s top earners — 14 of 30 — worked in the Police Department. Eleven worked in the schools, four in the Fire Department, and one in local government.
Top pay went to Superintendent Benedict Tantillo with a salary of $190,670. Police Detective Sergeant Dennis Symmonds made second most with a total income of $152,120. Town Manager Richard MacDonald was the third-highest earner with a salary of $141,550.
In Stoughton, which has a population of about 27,000, 34 people made $100,000 or more last year. The recently departed town manager was the highest paid on a list that included 20 in the Police Department, nine educators, three firefighters, and an employee each from the Department of Public Works and Town Hall.
Former town manager Francis Crimmins made $160,297 in 2011, resigning effective March 31, 2012, after a short tenure during which he pushed reforms and at times clashed with other town officials. The second-highest earner was police Lieutenant Michael Blount at $144,009, and the third-highest paid was School Superintendent Marguerite Rizzi with a salary of $139,999.
In Hingham, 60 people — approximately 3.75 percent of employees on the town payroll — earned $100,000 or more in 2011.
The top earners worked primarily in the school and police departments in the suburb of some 22,400 residents. Among those earning $100,00 or more: 21 educators; 19 police officers; 12 employees of the Hingham Municipal Lighting Plant; and one employee each from the Department of Public Works and Project Engineering and Town Hall.
The highest paid in Hingham was police Lieutenant Sean Cavanaugh at $161,212, followed by Lieutenant Darren McAdams at $160,885. School Superintendent Dorothy Galo was the third-highest paid at $159,518. Police Chief Michael Peraino and Town Administrator Alexiades earned nearly the same amount, with Peraino collecting $147,534 and Alexiades $146,597, according to 2011 payroll records.
In Weymouth, population approximately 54,000, about 5 percent of town employees earned $100,000 or more last year, according to the town’s website, which includes job titles for employees but not their names.
Nearly three-quarters of the highest-paid Weymouth employees in 2011 worked in the Police Department — 51 on the list of 69 top earners. Other public servants in the $100,000-plus club included eight firefighters; seven educators; and three members of the town government staff, including Mayor Susan Kay, at $110,374, who ranked 47th on the list of highest-paid employees.
Top pay went to Weymouth police Lieutenant Thomas Farrell, who earned $187,563, nearly $30,000 higher than other upper-tier moneymakers among town employees. The earnings were a combination of base salary plus $82,130 in additional pay from overtime and detail work.
Police officers carved out significant earnings in Weymouth in 2011: Seven earned more than $150,000; 22 others earned more than $120,000; and an additional nine earned $110,000 or more. The vast majority of the department’s top earners — 42 of the 51 — blasted up from base salaries of as low as $65,000.
In Brockton, the seventh-largest municipality in Massachusetts with an estimated population of nearly 94,000, 266 people — or just over 5 percent of municipal employees — earned $100,000 or more in 2011, according to payroll records.
In the blue-collar community, which has a relatively low median income of approximately $29,724, the top earners were dominated by employees in the school system: 101 educators pulled in $100,000 or more last year, along with 81 firefighters and 76 police officers.
Highest on the list was School Superintendent Matthew Malone with $201,890. Police Lieutenant Thomas LaFratta made $198,345, the second-highest pay. And third was Deputy Fire Chief George Phillips at $181,113. Six police officers and three firefighters were among the top 10 highest-paid city employees with incomes no lower than $161,000, according to city payroll records.
Brockton Mayor Linda Balzotti earned $130,435 and placed 59th on the list of public moneymakers in the city.
Such public salary information is beginning to catch the attention of residents in communities large and small south of Boston, some officials say.
Weymouth’s chief financial officer, William McKinney, said his city recently posted its payroll information online to heighten public awareness about how taxpayer money is spent. He said a growing number of people are interested in the material, so why not make it easy to find?
“We want to get the information out there. I think people are expecting more out of government and want greater transparency,” he said.
McKinney said taxpayers’ opinions about the employees’ earnings will vary, but the main objective is to present an accurate picture of how taxpayer money is spent.
“People will draw their own conclusions,” he said.
Meg Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.