March 08. 2013 12:24AM

Panel recommends raising Manchester mayor's pay 59 percent

New Hampshire Union Leader

Sen. Kelly Ayotte administers the oath of office to Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas during the City of Manchester Inaugural Ceremonies in January 2012. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

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MANCHESTER - City voters may get the chance to sign off on a hefty pay raise for the mayor.

The Charter Commission this week approved a motion that would hike the compensation for the office from $68,000 to $107,937, a nearly 59 percent increase.

The proposal is the first to have broad support among the commissioners, who approved it by a wide margin on Wednesday. The only two dissenting votes on the nine-member panel came from Commissioners Rich Girard and Will Infantine, who agreed that the salary of the city's highest elected officer was too low, but differed on the means to change it.

The mayor's salary has not changed since 1997, after the 1996 Charter Commission raised it to $68,000. The mayor of Manchester, the state's largest city, makes considerably less than the mayor of Nashua, the next largest city, where the position is governed by regular raises. The current mayor there, Donnalee Lozeau, earns $113,000 a year.

The 1996 charter vote that established the mayor's salary also gave aldermen the authority to raise it. They never did.

"I don't think there was the will to do it," said Commissioner Mike Lopez, the longtime member of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen who proposed the motion that was passed by the commission. "It was talked about, but there never was a motion made in reference to it ... It always came up in an election year, and nobody wanted to get involved."

Lopez, a Democrat, arrived at the figure of $107,937 by taking the current entry level pay for department heads, excluding that of the airport director and district superintendent. The salary would still be low paid compared to those of other department heads, who enjoy mandated yearly raises.

Lopez had originally proposed a graduated pay scale for the mayor, but the commissioners rejected the idea.

The public will get a chance to weigh in on the pay hike and other proposals when the commission holds public hearings later in the month.

For his part, Mayor Ted Gatsas said he would let the Charter Commission propose the changes it deemed prudent. "Whatever the appropriation, I ran not based on the salary, but because I love the city," he said.