PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A rarely-convened panel in Providence has voted to raise the allowed salaries for top city officials including the mayor and city councilors, as Mayor Jorge Elorza prepares to proposed a new city budget next week.
The Salary Review Commission, which recommends pay scales for the city’s top jobs per the city charter, met this week for the first time since 2017.
The commission does not have the power to actually set anyone’s salary, but recommends pay ranges that are forwarded to the mayor and City Council for approval. The mayor and City Council cannot raise their own salaries beyond the caps adopted by the commission, and they also can’t increase or decrease the pay for those elected jobs within six months of a new term.
It was not immediately clear if Elorza would adopt the suggested pay hikes into his budget for fiscal year 2021-22, which he plans to propose to the City Council next week. The mayor can “approve, reject or reduce” the recommendations, according to the charter.
Among the city leaders that could see raises under the recommendations are the mayor, city council leadership and members, and multiple department directors, though the commission opted to keep some salaries the same including the police chief and public safety commissioner.
During meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, the commission voted to raise the maximum salary for the mayor from $143,000 to $150,000, the council president, majority leader and minority leader from $23,000 to $30,000, and to increase the part-time city councilors’ maximum pay from $20,000 to $25,000.
All of those leaders currently make less than what the salary cap allows. Mayor Elorza makes $125,000, according to his office, while city councilors make $18,765. The council president and majority leader make $20,850. (There is no minority leader, as the council is all Democrats.)
By way of comparison, the part-time state representatives and senators in the General Assembly earn $16,635, with the House speaker and Senate president earning double.
The commission opted to keep the police chief’s salary capped at $175,000, which is what Chief Hugh Clements currently earns. Notably, the panel chose to make no changes to the $128,395 public safety commissioner salary, which has been a subject of contention between the Elorza administration and the City Council.
Steven Paré, who current holds the job, makes roughly $162,000 — higher than the position’s budgeted salary — because he’s also the acting fire chief and is paid out of both line items. But if the city were to hire a fire chief, Paré would get a roughly $40,000 pay cut.
Target 12 has previously reported that Paré acknowledged delaying the hiring of a fire chief because of his own salary situation. The city hasn’t had a fire chief for nearly six years.
Reached by phone Thursday, Paré said hiring a fire chief remains a priority, though he acknowledged the job hasn’t been posted recently. He referred questions about his salary to the mayor’s office.
Paré became eligible for a city pension this year, but said he doesn’t intend to retire as long as Elorza wants him to stay (the mayor’s term is up in Jan. 2023).
The commission did vote to increase the vacant fire chief position to $175,000, to match the police chief’s salary.
The panel also raised the salary caps for a number of department heads, including the city solicitor ($175,000), director of arts, culture and tourism ($122,237), finance director ($162,000), chief information office ($156,000), director of human resources ($134,780), director of planning and urban development ($141,531), director of public works ($141,000) and director of recreation ($122,237.)
The commission made no changes to the salaries for the director of communications, director of inspections and standards and director of public property, all three of which are capped at $122,237, and also held the line on the director of emergency management, which is capped at $128,395.
The commission also voted to raise the pay for city clerk from $110,000 to $116,000.
A formal report with the recommendations is expected to be submitted to Elorza, which also includes salaries for part-time board members and municipal judges.
Commission Chair Robert Ricci emphasized the salary increases were approved just to give the city flexibility in hiring.
“We don’t know when this commission will meet again,” Ricci said. “Sometimes it’s gone for five years, seven years, eight years and then it becomes a problem for recruitment.”
The Salary Review Commission’s members are appointed every four years by the mayor and approved by the City Council. The current members are Robert Ricci, Everin Perez, Jenn Steinfeld, Tiana Ochoa and Jordan Van Leesten.
The commission is barred from meeting more often than every two years.