In the last four years, the number of Newton employees who took home annual paychecks north of $100,000 climbed from 185 to 199 — an 8 percent increase — and total pay for those high earners has ballooned by $2.7 million.
During that time, the average paycheck for six-digit earners jumped from $115,965 in 2009 to $121,569 last year, according to payroll records released by the city this month.
Many of the highest earners boosted their pay by working overtime and private details, earning degrees and getting other perks, from longevity pay to clothing allowances.
In 2009, the $100,000-club included the fire chief, school superintendent, elementary school principals, firefighters, and police officers. Together those workers made more than $21.5 million.
Last year, 199 Newton workers made $100,000 or more, for a total of $24.2 million. They included more fire captains, twice as many school housemasters, and, for the first time, the city’s mayor.
The Board of Aldermen approved a budget last spring that raised Mayor Setti Warren’s annual pay from $97,876 to $125,001. Warren took home $110,722 for the calendar year, putting him 120th on the city’s pay list, up from 214th in 2011.
The city wrote paychecks to more than 4,870 full- and part-time workers last year, including teachers, firefighters, plumbers, custodians, aldermen, camp counselors and interns. Overall last year, earnings averaged $39,295.
The school system’s superintendent, David Fleishman, was again the city’s highest-paid employee, receiving $259,237 last year. He was followed by Matthew Cummings, who made $178,797 last year as police chief. He was dismissed in October after an investigation found he had made inappropriate comments to some female employees. Before he left, he received longevity pay, education bonuses, and a cash-out of his vacation and sick time.
The pay increases are what the city would expect over time, said Maureen Lemieux, Newton’s chief financial officer.
About 50 police officers and sergeants bumped their pay above $100,000 by doing detail work. Detail pay for all employees, including firefighters, rose to $3.4 million, an increase of nearly 7 percent over 2011.
That is a sign of an improving economy, Lemieux said, since the city received more requests for details from private companies. The vast majority of detail work is paid for privately, with the city also receiving money for the administrative work of arranging the assignments, Lemieux said.
However, Lemieux pointed out, Newton’s compensation costs overall have remained relatively stable. Between 2009 and last year, the city’s total annual payroll grew $4.9 million, or 2.6 percent, and barely increased between 2011 and last year, she said.
Warren, who was elected in late 2009, has touted his administration’s efforts to save money by bringing down growth rates in union salaries and health care costs. Administration officials have pointed to those savings as they urge voters on March 12 to approve $11.4 million in additional property taxes through an override of Proposition 2½ to pay for new schools, Fire Department buildings, roads, and more teachers to handle the growth in school enrollment.
Under contracts Warren’s administration negotiated with the city’s unions largely during 2011, employee compensation and health care costs can grow by only 2.5 percent. “They are a complete game-changer,” Lemieux said of the contracts.
Yet while that is an improvement over past outlays — between 2005 and 2009, the payroll grew by 16 percent — it is still too high, according to Joshua Norman, cochairman of Moving Newton Forward, which opposes the override.
If the city had frozen pay increases to employees in the past few years, more money could go toward its infrastructure and building needs, Norman said.
“If they were doing 100 percent perfect, they wouldn’t need to ask voters for a tax increase ,” he said.