New Milford offers 21% pay raise for mayor, first raise in 10 years

NEW MILFORD — City Council voted to raise the mayor’s salary by about $18,000 in the 2022-23 budget.

The budget – which will include this raise for Mayor Pete Bass – will be put to a vote by New Milford residents when it is finalized.

The increase represents a 21% increase over the mayor’s current salary, which City Council Vice President Katy Francis quoted at $85,504, bringing it to $103,504 a year. Council members voted unanimously to put the increase on budget. Bass recused himself.

At Monday’s regular meeting, Francis said the position of mayor had not seen a salary increase in the past decade, adding that “over the past 15 years, the average increase for our mayors was $524 a year”.

“Am I embarrassed for us in our town? Yes,” she said. “I have to tell you that I have been really and truly very embarrassed to see that nothing has been done for the past 10 years. It’s really terrible, but here we are. We take it upon ourselves to make this motion.

If the budget passes a municipal vote in the referendum, Bass’s new salary will go into effect July 1.

Bass took office as mayor in 2017 and is in his third term after a successful re-election campaign in November.

Records of previous years’ budget budgets, posted on the city’s website, show that in the budgets for fiscal years 2018-19 and 2019-20, the mayor’s salary was budgeted at $89,871. For the next two budgets – the 2020-21 and 2021-22 budgets – Bass’ salary has decreased to $85,591.

Bass’ total compensation was about $91,800 in 2020, according to a Freedom of Information Act request from Hearst Connecticut Media last year. We did not know what this included in addition to the salary.

Bass did not specify where the additional $18,000 in the budget would come from.

According to the mayor, the issue of salaries was raised when council members Mary Jane Lundgren, Chris Cosgrove and David Lawson were reviewing salaries in recent budgets to prepare for the new budget.

“They found that position hadn’t had an increase since the very early 2000s, at best,” Bass said. “For many, many years the board has never recommended increasing it before.”

In 2009, the News-Times reported that then-Mayor Patricia Murphy’s salary would rise to $82,299, with a 1.8% increase for each of the two years in office, and that an allowance of $4,115 in lieu of pension would be donated for the position for each year of the term.

Compared to neighboring towns, Bass’s salary in 2021 is lower than other top executives, even with a possible 21% increase coming.

In 2020, Ridgefield paid their first coach $141,877, while Redding paid $123,333 and Newtown paid their respective first coaches $108,678. Westport expects to pay its first selectman $150,000 in 2022, down from $104,925.

Neighbor Brookfield paid first draft pick Steve Dunn $115,286 in 2021, up from $112,750 in 2020, according to records at Hearst Connecticut.

“Even though it was a big increase, it’s still below the market rate,” said Chris Cosgrove, who served on the subcommittee that looked into the matter.

Cosgrove said that before suggesting a new salary, the subcommittee compared the salaries of mayors and first elected officials in nine neighboring towns, ultimately concluding that New Milford was “seriously behind” when it came to the compensation of this job.

“We were lucky to have bipartisan support. And we felt that was the right thing to do — that our mayor, whoever that person was, be fairly compensated,” he said.

Council member Alexandra Thomas said she would have liked more information that the mayor’s salary would be discussed at the meeting and that she was only made aware of the subject on Friday with “little time for clarification and preparation”.

The mayor’s salary discussion is not included in the original or revised agenda posted on the city’s website. Francis made a motion at the meeting to add the item to the agenda under “5b” after the executive board session.

“Katy’s explanation when the motion came up is why I voted yes,” Thomas said.

Council member Hilary Ram is also “far behind” on efforts to raise the mayor’s salary. She also hopes that other items, like the school’s larger proposed budget, will receive similar consideration from the board.

“I’m certainly prepared to support bringing his salary to a level where it’s comparable to similarly sized, nearby towns,” Ram said. “He’s done an admirable job in COVID, so I’m definitely behind that.”

Sandra Diamond Fox contributed to this report.

William M. Mayer