ATLANTIC CITY — City Council signed off Wednesday on a $15,874 raise for Mayor Lorenzo Langford, a move they defended to critics who want to hold a citywide vote on the pay raise during the next election.

Council voted 7-0 to approve an ordinance that will boost Mayor Lorenzo Langford’s pay by more than 15 percent next January. The new rules set the mayor’s base salary at 1 percent above the city’s highest paid civilian, Municipal Judge Bruce Ward.

The salary change will apply to Langford as well as his successors.

Langford’s $103,000 base salary now ranks 145th of more than 1,400 municipal workers. His new salary will be $118,874 — a jump of $15,874, or 15 percent — 27th on the city payroll records, behind long-serving police and fire officials, records show.

It will also be 1 percent higher than Ward’s $117,697 base pay.

Langford said he would take the financial condition of the city into consideration when deciding whether to take the extra money when it’s due him in January 2013.

“In 2010, when I was due a raise and everybody else got theirs, I chose to forgo mine, in light of our financial situation,” he said Wednesday.

Faced with a $10 million to $15 million budget deficit, the city laid off 40 police officers, 30 firefighters and 23 other city workers two years ago and agreed to state oversight of its finances through the end of 2011. The city reinstated the public safety personnel during 2011, but inherited another year of state financial oversight, something officials have attributed to the municipality needing help with handling its tax appeals.

“This is not a money grab,” Langford said. “I could still ride off into the sunset, collect a pension and be gainfully employed.”

City fire and police chiefs, three deputy police chiefs, 10 police captains, nine fire battalion chiefs and two fire prevention supervisors would still make more than the mayor, records show.

Fire Chief Dennis Brooks commands the highest base salary: $177,555. Police Chief Ernest Jubilee follows at $149,562. Deputy Police Chief Henry White makes $141,096, Deputy Fire Chief Robert Palamaro $136,038, and Deputy Fire Chiefs Vincent Granese and Daniel Tamburilla $136,034 each, payroll shows.

The logic behind the change is that the mayor, as CEO of the municipality, should make more money than his subordinates and a salary comparable to mayors elsewhere and heads of other public and private organizations in Atlantic City.

“On principle, no one would find quarrel with what (that),” Langford said. “But Lorenzo Langford the personality seems to be fodder for some critics.”

After hearing about the proposed pay policy, local Republicans initiated what they described as a bipartisan petition drive Tuesday, three days after they mailed letters to Democratic Committee members trying to recruit them away from their current political party.

Atlantic City Republicans want to get 2,000 people to sign a petition that could get the question on the November ballot. They have until May 9 to do so.

As of Wednesday night, Jesse Kurtz — a Republican who challenged Langford in 2009 and then-6th Ward Councilman Tim Mancuso in 2011 — said he and others have so far collected “a few hundred” signatures.

Lifelong resident Elaine Campbell plans to sign the petition. The 54-year-old was not, however, surprised to learn councilmen would consider boosting salaries voluntarily — meaning a contract doesn’t already require it — at a time when declining casino property values are driving taxes up despite local budget cuts.

“It’s crazy, but that’s the Atlantic City mentality: Get whatever you can get while you can,” said Campbell, a retired Casino Control Commission inspector who lives in the resort’s Venice Park neighborhood not far from the mayor’s home.

She said she didn’t vote for Langford when he last ran in 2009, but doesn’t think the raise will affect the upcoming re-election campaign he hinted at earlier this year.

“It wouldn’t hurt him,” she said. “A lot of people just don’t pay attention to what’s going on.”

Langford also sought a 15 percent raise in 2004.

Citing similar logic, City Council agreed the mayor should make as much as other executives, and the mayor’s salary rose from $82,250 to $95,000 as of January 2005. That change, however, didn’t come with a long-term formula.

David Logan, a city laborer, said the mayor deserves the pay bump.

“I don’t have a problem with that, I’m only asking that as blue collar workers, I hope that when it’s time to do ours, I hope that rumor — I heard 2 percent is all we’re being offered — is wrong,” Logan said.

Contact Emily Previti:

609-272-7221