Milford says its top cop is state’s best, but paid below average

Milford Police Chief Keith Mello

Milford Police Chief Keith Mello

Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

MILFORD — Varying factors lead to a range of salaries for police chiefs across the state. But that does not change the fact, according to the city’s Police Commission, that Milford’s top cop is underpaid and that must be rectified.

The average base salary in Connecticut for a police chief is $146,800 and around $126,000 for a deputy chief, said Police Commission Chair Richard Smith. Milford Police Chief Keith Mello’s salary sits at $124,767 — a number that has driven the commissioners to urge the Board of Aldermen to add funds to the budget to cover a pay increase.

Mello became the ninth chief in the history of the Milford Police Department in April 2006.

Recently, the commission went before the board during a budget hearing seeking the additional funds to cover raises for Mello and Deputy Chief Brian Rojee in the 2022-23 fiscal year budget proposal, which now stands at some $242 million.

“Our request is simple, and it’s certainly humble, that will not bring any bank, but it will require a two-thirds majority of this board,” said 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.”

By comparison, in Fairfield, a city with a population of 62,105, Police Chief Robert Kamalaras has a gross pay of $173,187. In Shelton, with a population of 41,141, Police Chief Shawn Sequeira stands at $151,985, and in Stratford, with a population of 52,120, similar to Milford’s of 52,732, Police Chief Joe McNeil earns $132,536. In West Haven, with a population slightly bigger than Milford’s at 54,763, Police Chief Joseph Perno earns $132,434, and in the state's most populous city, Bridgeport (145,639), Acting Police Chief Rebeca Garcia earns $157,417.

Currently, Milford’s Deputy Chief Brian Rojee earns a $110,215 salary.

In Fairfield, former Deputy Chief John Bucherati earned a salary of $145,376, and in Stratford, Deputy Chief Joseph McNeil has a salary of $116,644. West Haven Deputy Chief Carl Flemming makes $120,577, and in Bridgeport, Assistant Chief of Police Jim Nardozzi makes $148,179.

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

Patrick Ridenhour, Danbury police chief and Connecticut Police Chiefs Association president, said there is no one-size-fits-all to determine police chief salaries.

“Salaries for police chiefs are determined by each municipality,” he said. “I believe each municipality tries to be competitive to recruit and maintain quality candidates. Municipalities also determine the amount and frequency of raises.”

Justin Rosen, Milford chief of staff, said the adjustment to the police chief and deputy chief salaries follows the Milford Police Department union contract.

“Since the contract expired a few years ago, the chief and deputy chief will receive retroactive increases pending the adoption of a new contract,” he said. “This was the case with the Milford Fire Department contract, and the chief and assistant chiefs received the same retroactive increases as the unionized employees.

Since 2013, Mello’s salary has increased from $99,714 to his current $124,767, an increase of just over 25 percent in 10 years.

In 2013, he earned $99,714; in 2014 it was $107,798 and in 2015 he earned $110,223. From 2016 through 2018, he earned $113,309, and in 2019, his salary went up to $121,724. In 2020, Mello’s salary went to $124,767, which is what he currently earns.

Ridenhour said it is hard to make an accurate comparison between what different municipalities pay their police chiefs because the duties and responsibilities of each chief may vary depending on the size of the department and the financial health of municipalities.

“Therefore, it’s hard to determine whether or not chiefs are concerned about pay without taking a survey,” he said. “Salaries are not something that we regularly discuss at our CT Police Chiefs meetings.”

Increases in benefits and salary are budgeted for each year, said Rosen. For the 2021-22 budget, the benefit and salary reserve line is at $615,353.

“The salary line items in the MPD budget do not reflect the overall compensation package,” he added.