By Kathy McCabe
Twenty-three city of Melrose employees earned $100,000 or more last year, with police officers dominating the ranks, along with a handful of school department administrators, according to a Globe review of public payroll records.
Fifteen Melrose police officers earned more than $100,000, much of it due to overtime and lucrative detail jobs that added tens of thousands of dollars to their total pay for the year, according to the review.
In Melrose, a Globe review found that Lieutenant James Mulrenan was the city’s highest-paid employee, earning $145,209. The amount includes a base salary of $80,723, plus $42,319 in detail pay and $12,667 in overtime. Other payments, such as holiday and longevity pay, totaled $9,499.
Mulrenan did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
Mayor Robert J. Dolan said overtime and detail pay routinely make police officers among the city’s top earners. ‘‘A police officer really can make as much money as they choose to make,’’ he said.
Still, one fiscal observer noted that big paydays don’t sit well with taxpayers.
‘‘There is both a fiscal and political issue surrounding the very high compensation many police officers receive,’’ said Michael J. Widmer, chief executive of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a nonprofit watchdog group. ‘‘The fiscal issue, of course, is the enormous financial pressures facing virtually every city and town.’’
Police aren’t alone at the top of the municipal payroll, however.
School Superintendent Joseph Casey, who earned $141,110, was the city’s second-highest paid employee. Melrose High School principal Joseph Dillon, who earned $112,700, was the city’s 10th-highest paid employee last year, according to the review. Gregory Zammuto, the school department business manager, had a salary of $103,920.
Fire Chief John O’Brien made $116,600, and John Scenna, public works engineer who oversees snow plowing, earned $113,501, an amount that included $37,407 in overtime. Auditor Patrick Dello Russo, who earned $108,238, was the highest-paid City Hall department head.
Dolan — whose salary of $96,174 made him the city’s 29th-highest paid employee — said he believes the city’s salaries are reasonable.
‘‘I make a fair wage,’’ said Dolan, whose pay increased 11 percent last year. ‘‘There have been years when I haven’t taken any raise.’’
He added that the pay for the school superintendent and auditor are comparable with salaries paid in other communities in Middlesex County. ‘‘In Joe Casey [school superintendent] I think we have a good deal,’’ said Dolan, also a member of the School Committee. ‘‘We have a quality superintendent at a reasonable rate.’’
Casey could not be reached for comment.
Dello Russo, the city’s chief operating officer, did not return a call seeking comment. But Dolan called Dello Russo ‘‘the best in the business. ... He’s my top partner here running the city. He makes a fair wage.’’
In public works, Scenna was the highest-paid employee, and the ninth-highest in the city, with help from Mother Nature. As the director of snow operations, Scenna works overtime on every snowstorm. ‘‘Snow overtime is something that just happens,’’ said Robert Beshara, the public works director.
Over the last three years, detail work for police officers was plentiful. City streets were torn up to wire for high-speed Internet access, and to install drain pipes under Main Street and Converse Lane.
‘‘We’ve torn up the whole city. We’ve rewired the whole city,’’ Dolan said. ‘‘There was a lot of detail work available. But a lot of the work is finished. ... Last year was a pretty light year for those guys [police].’’
Sergeant David Mackey, the city’s third-highest earner, made $132,179, including $43,064 in detail pay. Other police officers who ranked among the top 10 highest-paid employees were Lieutenant Paul Norton, $128,756, including $26,565 in detail pay, fourth; Officer David Roy, $120,572, including $39,754 in detail pay, fifth; Officer Stephen Dennis, $116,682, including $34,360 in detail pay, sixth; Lieutenant Richard Morrissey, a former police chief, $114,186, including $19,848 in detail pay, was eighth.
Despite the hefty pay, most police officers earned less money in 2008 than in 2007, the data show. Mulrenan, for example, had a 27 percent drop in total pay last year, compared with 2007.
In 2007, Mulrenan earned $198,065, an amount that included $74,405 in detail pay. In 2008, Mulrenan’s detail pay dropped to $42,319.
A change in the city’s detail policy is likely the reason for the steep decline. Chief Michael Lyle said a rule created last year limits the amount of hours a police officer can work in a single day to no more than 18.5.
‘‘Before, they could almost work unlimited hours,’’ Lyle said. ‘‘Now they’re restricted.’’
Lyle said concern about the ‘‘fatigue factor’’ led to the restriction.
‘‘You have to worry if someone is alert enough to do the job after they’ve worked an excessive amount of hours,’’ he said.
The city also cut back on details used on public works projects. Projects on major roads still have a police officer on detail. But projects on secondary roads no longer do, officials said.
‘‘On a main thoroughfare, you absolutely need a uniformed police officer,’’ Dolan said.
‘‘But if the job is on a side street, we’ll shut down the road. We can’t afford a detail on every local job.’’
Kathy McCabe can be reached at email@example.com.