Milford Police Commission seeks pay hike for chief, deputy chief

MILFORD — The city police chief and deputy chief need a raise, according to members of the Police Commission.

Commission members, appearing before the Board of Aldermen budget public hearing Tuesday, called for the salaries of Police Chief Keith Mello and Deputy Chief Brian Rojee to get a bump, to bring the pair’s pay in line with the average of other such positions across the state.

The commission also is seeking to replace funds intended to hire four new police officers.

The Board of Aldermen hosted the public hearing on the Board of Finance’s recommended 2022-23 budget of roughly $242 million — a $20 million hike from the present fiscal year. The aldermen will hold their own budget workshops before holding a final vote.

If approved, the mill rate would be set at 27.18, a decrease of 0.47 mills from this year’s budget. But Mayor Ben Blake has stated his plan is the mill rate will be adjusted down even further — hopefully, he says, in the 26s — before the 2022-23 budget is finalized.

But the commission members at the hearing asked for the aldermen to increase next year’s budget proposal in order to give the chief and deputy chief a raise.

“Our request is simple, and it’s certainly humble, that will not bring any bank, but it will require 2/3rds majority of this board,” said Police Commission Chair Richard Smith. “Let’s bring them to average for the state as a base salary. That would still be a bargain no matter how you look at it.”

Mello and Rojee presently earn $124,767 and $110,215, respectively.

“The average base of compensation in Connecticut for a police chief is $146,800 and deputy chief about $126,000,” said Smith. “We are lucky enough to have the best leadership team in the state, and the way we decide to recognize it is by paying them less than most all towns in Connecticut.”

“We have talked about this many, many times,” added Police Commission Vice Chair Samuel Bergami, Jr. “We are in total compliance with each other and agree wholeheartedly that something has to be done here.”

Smith said it is well known throughout Connecticut that Milford is fortunate to have the most respected chief in the state.

“In addition to serving as a long-time police commissioner for the city, I am also president of the Police Commissioners Association in Connecticut,” said David “Chip” Rubenstein. “Throughout all my interactions with senior command staff members, elected positions, lobbyists, there is no one held in higher esteem than our Police Chief Mello. His name brings honor and respect, and he’s grooming an excellent potential replacement. We need to focus on retaining these two exceptional individuals.”

Smith said leaders throughout Connecticut and beyond seek his guidance and knowledge, and the Connecticut legislature seeks Mello while crafting police-related legislation.

“It’s hard to believe that our police chief and deputy chief are among the lowest paid in the State of Connecticut,” said Smith.

One of the arguments that Smith has heard is that Mello is receiving a pension in addition to his salary because he retired from a previous job.

“Should your compensation in your next job be reduced because you are drawing a pension? Of course not, that can’t be a factor,” he said. “We don’t pay into the pension for Chief Mello. We don't pay his healthcare benefits. We don’t have that overhead.”

He’s also heard mention of gross salary and when people trade in or cash in vacation time.

“Those are incidentals. Those are not recurring base compensation, and often we are distracted by these numbers,” said Smith. “I’ve heard that everybody is getting a (cost of living) increase. But everyone is getting that. Even other chiefs are getting that, so it’s relative.”

One of Smith’s fears is losing both Mello and Rojee in what is a competitive market.

“Keep in mind that it would cost us probably, $225,000 a year to replace Chief Mello,” said Smith. “You’re not going to get a chief under $185,000 in this market. Add on pension and healthcare, and you’re well over $200,000.”

Police Commissioner Bill Bevan asked the board to re-add the funds for four new police officers. The Police Department requested $254,720 for four new police officers. The mayor’s proposed budget has it at $0.

“The chief asked for four new police officers, and for whatever reason, it was not followed through. It didn’t make it into the budget,” said Alderman Anthony Giannattasio, adding that he would be offering an amendment when the time came to vote to add the four police officers.

Board of Education Chair Susan Glennon said other than having a great reputation across the state, the police department has a strong relationship with the school system.

“It is a reflection of Chief Mello’s support, responsiveness to the school district needs,” Glennon said. “It is a very important partnership that I would hate to see diminished if the leadership of the police department was to change.”