Westport RTM committees back first selectman salary hike

An exterior of Westport Town Hall in Westport, Conn., on Friday Apr. 17, 2020.

An exterior of Westport Town Hall in Westport, Conn., on Friday Apr. 17, 2020.

Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTPORT — Two committees of the Representative Town Meeting voted unanimously Tuesday night to recommend to the full RTM that the first selectman’s salary be increased to $150,000.

The current salary for the Westport first selectman is $104,925 a year. Though there were some questions from members of the RTM Finance Committee and its Employee Compensation Committee about increasing the salary by such a large amount, most thought it seemed fair.

“Whoever the first selectman is, they are basically in charge of the whole town,” said employee compensation committee member Jimmy Izzo. “This is a very important position, regardless of who’s in it.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, Westport personnel/human resources director Ralph Checuti recounted that the first selectman position had not had a salary increase from 2003 to 2019.

The position did have a small bump in 2019, when it went from $101,475 to its current position.

Checuti pointed out during the years in which there was no increase, the first selectman’s compensation technically decreased.

“There had been a stipend for an automobile of $6,000,” he said, adding that, during the 2008 recession, the stipend was cut to $4,800 and not restored.

Checuti referenced a chart he had made showing what the first selectman’s salary would have been if it had risen at the same as other non-union managers in town, and if it had increased as the same rate as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index.

Those charts indicated that the first selectman’s salary should be within the $150,000 to $160,000 range.

Checuti also stated that Westport’s first selectman has a lower salary than that of many nearby towns, including Fairfield where Checuti’s research showed the first selectman has a salary of $145,072, before benefits.

The increase had already been approved by the Board of Finance and the RTM committees met to discuss it before deciding whether to pass it on the full RTM, which next meets Oct. 5.

Though most committee members were in favor of increasing the salary of the first selectman, some had questions, largely about the amount of the increase.

Employee compensation committee member Jay Keenan initially planned to vote against the increase, mainly because he was worried about increasing it so much at one time.

“I’d be more comfortable if there were two or three tranches leading up to this,” he said.

But other members argued that the amount seemed fair, given multiple factors, including the salaries of other local officials in the state.

“The only thing that’s relevant is ‘Is the compensation economically correct today?’” said employee compensation committee member Richard Jaffe.

Ultimately, Keenan said, the other members convinced him to vote in favor of the increase.

The committees voted separately, but both were unanimously in favor.

The increase is scheduled to be voted on by the full RTM at its next meeting, which takes place at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 5.