PORTLAND – City councilors drew criticism Monday night as they unanimously approved budgeted raises for Mayor Michael Brennan, City Manager Mark Rees and themselves.

Residents at the City Council meeting objected to councilors’ approval of a 1.5 percent increase for all of the city’s non-union employees when so many residents are struggling in a down economy.

“Everyone in Maine is losing money,” said Benjamin Roberts, who asked councilors to vote their pay increases down in a display of support for people who are struggling to make ends meet.

“It’s disconcerting that you get to vote on your own pay increase,” said Kevin Casey. “I think there is an inherent moral hazard in taking this vote.”

Rees said each councilor will get an increase of just under $100 from their current compensation of $5,600 a year. The federal cost-of-living adjustment is 2.33 percent.

Brennan now gets paid $65,400 a year, a salary that under the city charter is set by the council. His salary will increase by $981.

Rees said his annual salary is $143,000, an amount that will increase by $2,145.

Rees said the money to cover the raises, totaling $150,000, is in the city’s 2012-13 budget, which took effect July 1. The raises will be retroactive to July 1.

Rees told councilors in a letter that the raises were delayed because the city was working on a wage reclassification plan.

Less controversial Monday night was the council’s approval of Jerome LaMoria as Portland’s next fire chief.

Rees’ nomination of LaMoria drew support from all eight city councilors and Brennan.

LaMoria will start the job Jan. 3, replacing Fred LaMontagne, who retired as fire chief in March. Steve Smith has served as acting fire chief since LaMontagne retired.

LaMoria’s starting annual salary will be $95,000. That will increase to $100,000 after six months.

Rees selected LaMoria, 50, from a field of more than 55 applicants from across the country.

“The selection process for fire chief was rigorous and it was thorough,” Rees told councilors.

LaMoria will oversee one of the city’s largest departments, with an annual budget of $16 million and 234 employees.

The Portland Fire Department faces pressure to make structural changes in response to a shifting workload.

Rees has said that because of new fire safety requirements and improvements in building construction, the department is increasingly focused on emergency medical calls rather than fire calls.

The fire department is undergoing a review of its management and operations structure – the first review of its kind in 20 years.

LaMoria, who now lives in Mechanicsville, Md., has most recently been the training and exercise coordinator for the Prince George’s County Office of Homeland Security.

He recently retired as acting deputy fire chief of emergency operations with the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department, where he served for more than 26 years.

LaMoria said he is looking forward to becoming Portland’s 14th fire chief.

“I will become a champion for fostering positive relations with the community,” he told councilors.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com