METHUEN, MA — Methuen police laid off nearly 20 percent of its force Wednesday after budget cuts brought on by the coronavirus pandemic left the department unable to support the positions, according to the police chief.
Chief Joseph Solomon said he was forced to let go of 10 officers, a lieutenant, three sergeant positions, and two dispatchers as result of the financial woes, Boston 25 News reports.
The cuts take hold July 31.
“It’s a significant blow,” he told the news station. “It absolutely affects the quality of policing.”
According to the outlet, Methuen’s police salaries have raised controversy in recent years, starting in 2018, when the Methuen Police Superior Officers Association negotiated a contract with former Mayor Stephen Zanni’s administration that would have raised salaries for some of the department’s 26 captains, lieutenants, and sergeants by over 100 percent.
The salaries for five superior officers would have been on track to rise to $432,295 a year under the proposal.
The state Office of the Inspector General said in 2019 the contract was illegal, finding that council members and Zanni did not meet city regulations when negotiating the contract’s approval, according to the outlet.
In early 2019, the department laid off 50 police officers and three K-9s over a budget dispute with the city council but the positions were ultimately re-instated.
The union contract is currently in arbitration. The police department is operating under the 2017 fiscal year budget.
In light of this week’s layoffs, several city councilors questioned the chief’s own salary.
“While 19 percent of the Methuen Police Department receives pink slips, the chief of that department is still one of the highest-paid chiefs in the nation, receiving $335,063 in compensation over the course of a recent 12-month period. Something is wrong with this picture,” Councilor-At-Large D.J. Beauregard wrote in an email to Boston 25 News.
Councilor Joel Faretra told the station there are “definitely cuts” in the salary that could be made to preserve positions.
“It’s been widely reported about what the chief’s salary is at this point … Not sure if he made some concessions to help save jobs,” Faretra said. “I would hope that he would.”
Meanwhile, Councilor Allison Saffie told the news station the department’s budget is “top heavy.”
“We need to rethink and rework deals moving forward so that layoffs do not go directly to the patrolmen and front line,” Saffie wrote in an email to the outlet.
“Logistically it makes sense to keep more patrolmen at work by laying off a ‘higher-up’ who makes 2-3x the pay of one patrolman,” she added. “No calculator is needed to do the math on that one.”
Solomon, in response, told Boston 25 News the criticism is driven by a “political, personal agenda” aimed specifically at him and some members of the police force.
“They can answer to that at another time but I’m not going to dignify their comments with any other further response,” he said.
Budget talks continue next week in Methuen.