By Adam Andrzejewski
Boston ranks as one of the top-30 most economically powerful cities in the world. It’s a center of scientific research, a world leader in higher education, and a pioneer in innovation.
None of this, however, has been enough to save the city from ranking among the nation’s worst tax-and-spend offenders.
Recently, the city council faced a $65 million budget hole last year, but still voted to increase spending by $119 million. They were likely counting on a bailout from the American taxpayer.
Then, in March, Congress bailed out Boston with $434 million from the American Rescue Act. But the real amount of congressional aid, according to a city spokesperson, was closer to $700 million.
It’s no wonder the city can “afford” to pay their employees so much.
Our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com found nearly 8,500 city employees making over $100,000 per year, costing taxpayers $1.2 billion. You can review all 2.1 million six-figure public employees from across the country on our interactive map.
In 2020, top-paid Boston employees included the mayor at $199,000; the “head assistant registrar of voters” who made $233,515; a deputy fire chief with a $332,573 salary; police officers who earned up to $365,001; and 600 city employees who made between $50,000 and $175,100 in overtime pay.
We found 31 employees whose overtime pay exceeded base pay. Inspectional Services employed the top-two overtime earners: a wire inspector earned $267,245 ($175,138 in overtime) and a chief electrical inspector made $269,245 ($165,122 in overtime).
A spokesperson responded to our comment request with justification of the six-figure overtime payouts.
Mayor’s Office – $5.2 million payroll
In 2020, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh earned $199,000—a higher salary than 48 out of 50 governors. Mayor Walsh’s 68-person staff exceeded the staff size of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who only employs 60 people.
Walsh’s staff includes three photographers who each made between $74,000 and $85,000. The photographers’ salaries and benefits collectively cost taxpayers more than $300,000 annually.
Recently, President Joe Biden picked Walsh as the new Secretary at the U.S. Department of Labor.
Public Schools – $580.5 million payroll
Public school Superintendent Brenda Cassellius ($311,711) is the highest paid city employee who is not a member of the police or fire departments. Cassellius significantly out-earned the U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona ($192,500).
The public schools employ 5,121 teachers with an average pay of $93,193. With benefits, we estimate that each teacher costs taxpayers $120,000 every year.
Public schools didn’t return to full in-person learning until April 2021.
Police Department– $416.3 million payroll
The 3,142 employees of the city’s police agency cost taxpayers $416.3 million in cash compensation last year for an average of $132,500 per employee. Of the top 500 highest paid city employees, 365 worked for the police and made at least $215,000 (all but six of the rest worked in the fire department).
The city’s top-eight most highly compensated employees were police officers – lieutenants, detectives, sergeants, and captains – earning between $332,907 and $365,001 in cash compensation, not including perks and benefits.
Police Chief William Scott earned $259,615 before retirement.
The Career Incentive Pay Program, dubbed The Quinn Bill, gave 10 to 25 percent pay increases to police officers who have advanced degrees in criminal justice. This boost added nearly $30 million in cash compensation to 1,384 officers, an average pay kicker of $21,340 per officer.
Overtime pay added an additional $78 million to the payroll, which provided 2,521 employees with an average of $30,100 per person.
In 2020, the city saw a five-percent drop in crime, but homicides and shootings increased by approximately 50 percent, according to statistics from the department.
Fire Department – $264.2 million payroll
The Fire Department had two chiefs last year. Chief John Dempsey replaced outgoing Chief Joseph Finn in May 2020.
Last year, before retiring, Finn received $293,729, including $56,730 in base salary and $236,998 in “other pay.” Dempsey received $284,729 in cash compensation.
Only 58 of the 1,693 Fire employees didn’t bring home more than $100,000 in cash comp last year, and 1,000 employees made more than $150,000.
Top pay in the department went to two deputy chiefs, Michael Hocking and Michael Doherty, who brought home $332,573 and $309,925 respectively.
Hocking earned his salary by combining base pay ($200,190); overtime ($67,445); detail pay ($34,272); injured compensation ($20,935); and other pay ($9,728).
A spokesperson responded with full context regarding 2020 compensation at the department during a pandemic.
Public Works – $26 million payroll
Top-paid employees in the Public Works department included Brian Coughlin, the superintendent of Sanitation, who collected $202,872. Norman Parks, assistant superintendent of street operations, took in $194,145, and Scott J. Alther, superintendent for automotive maintenance, earned $189,780.
Public works employs a staff of 1,790 people, including code enforcement officers ($101,909), motor equipment mechanics ($122,677), and logistics specialists ($155,485).
The department paid out $3.4 million in overtime, an average of $9,621 per employee.
Parks Department – $16.8 million payroll
Stephen Passacantilli, director of operations for the Parks Department, made $154,300, with a base salary of $127,050 and $24,883 in overtime, plus $2,416 of “other” pay.
Commissioner Ryan T. Woods came in second in total income, earning $137,596, with a base pay of $135,000 and $2,596 in “other” pay.
Other six-figure positions included general maintenance managers ($113,637); park rangers ($114,806); and managers of the green tree maintenance crews ($130,784).
Overtime cost $1.6 million, averaging $7,980 for the 196 people who collected the extra pay.
Property Management - $10.8 million payroll
Two executive assistants for the Property Management department, Leon Graves and Kenneth Ryan, collected $189,899 and $169,685 in total pay, respectively, making them the top earners in the department. They out-earned the Interim Commissioner Indira “Indy” Alvarez ($133,412).
Overtime drove the executive level comp, with Graves making $64,220 in overtime and Ryan collecting $41,346. The department paid $2.5 million in overtime to 118 people, at an average of $21,422 per person.
Nine employees at Property Management made more than $50,000 in overtime alone.
Deputy commissioner Joseph Callahan pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic as an explanation of the department’s overtime pay: “2020 was a very challenging year for the Property Management Department due to the Covid pandemic,” he told Open the Books.
Boston’s long-term financial situation looks bleak, and it’s being driven in large part by employee pay and benefits.
The city has guaranteed $5.7 billion in bonds, public employee retirement pension, and retiree healthcare. Each city resident owes $12,000 just to cover the unfunded liability, according to data provided by fiscal accountability organization Truth In Accounting (2019).
However, in the end, Boston is a progressive utopia, so well-meaning fiscal hawks are going to have to cry a lot louder, or they won’t even have a voice at the table.
Note: The city released only cash compensation, i.e. salary, overtime, other pay, etc. Not included were the costs of pension benefits, health insurance, paid time off, and other perks — and, if included, we used a 30-percent estimate.