By Pattie Pacella, Neighb News Correspondent
The Acushnet Selectboard met via Zoom on Tuesday, 5/12/20, and their first item was the vacation rollover discussion.
Chairperson Roger Cabral stated that Town Administrator Julie Hebert had sent them a detailed document that reviewed vacations specific to the employees, anything from a total of 4.9 weeks to the low of zero vacation weeks left at this time.
“I can’t imagine COVID has had to do with some of these vacations not being used,” Mr. Cabral said.“I’m sensitive to the COVID fact but I can’t blame COVID one hundred percent for unused vacation.”
Administrative Assistant Lisa Leonard was not on the call. Mr. Cabral said he was certainly sensitive to her situation as they have requested that she keep the Selectboard’s office open through the COVID crisis and that they have asked her to “go above and beyond.”
Mr. Cabral said he is inclined to move forward with “no more than a week can be rolled over.”
Board member Kevin Gaspar stated that he had read and reread the information provided by Ms. Hebert and he could not understand how they have allowed some of the accumulation totals. He said it looked like some people had more vacation than they were supposed to be given according to their contracts. He used an example of “one of the kids, who it says has 3.2 weeks of vacation left on the books, but you don’t get three weeks until after five years, and he hasn’t been here that long.”
Mr. Gaspar stated he had a few conversations with staff who told him that it was past practice with Town Administrator Brian Noble to allow rollovers of all vacation unused. Mr. Gaspar stated there was an “exorbitant amount of rollover time,” and he was not in favor of having it all roll over.
Ms. Hebert brought to the board’s attention that some of the numbers on the report were inaccurate and it was a little difficult to read, when they went to the new payroll system. However, she assured them that the bottom-line list of “available hours” is most certainly accurate.
Ms. Hebert also stated that as far as she knew, Mr. Noble granted a one-week rollover, except with the Collector/Treasurer, and that was two weeks.
Mr. Cabral proposed that they allow no more than one-week rollover vacation week, and any other vacation time would have to be used by June 30, 2020.
“So it’s business as usual,” said board member David Desroches. “Use your vacation, carry over one week.”
He said that is how the contracts read, and it should continue like that. He also asked Ms. Hebert if anyone had submitted a request for more than a week rollover.
Mr. Gaspar stated he would be in favor of a one-week rollover.
Mr. Cabral said he agreed as well, but he would like the Selectboard to keep an open mind to situations that might arise under an “exception rule.”
Mr. Gaspar disagreed: “Once the vote is done it should be a done deal.”
He added that they have already received a few emails from employees asking them to reconsider the rule and “quite frankly the Chief’s* last few sentences in his email are disturbing,” he said, “but I won’t go there.”
There was a discrepancy in the emails the three Selectboard members received.
Mr. Gaspar stated there was an email that came in the day of the meeting with a “list” of people who had requested more than the one-week rollover. Mr. Desroches and Mr. Cabral were not sure they received that email.
After a few minutes, Mr. Cabral noted that he just noticed the email and after a quick look said the list was too long and ask that the Board consider reviewing it at their next meeting.
Mr. Desroches and Mr. Gaspar wanted to move forward with the discussion that already took place and they voted to allow the one-week rollover only.
Ms. Hebert then requested they do a separate review for the Fire Department as their contract does not say anything about a rollover and since the COVID crisis the Fire Chief has frozen vacation time for department employees. The Selectboard agreed to discuss it at their next meeting.
In other business, the Selectboard began reviewing the articles for Town Meeting and the FY21 budgets. Mr. Cabral stated there were quite a few new by-law changes that were set to be heard at the Town Meeting and he was having a hard time understanding all of them. He requested that the persons responsible for writing the by-laws be asked to be present at their next meeting.
Mr. Gaspar was more disturbed with the stormwater by-law changes and the feasibility needed to hold Public Hearings before Town Meeting to discuss by-law changes.
He stated that they must determine if the by-laws are potentially “controversial” and if they are, then they would require a full or close to full quorum at Town Meeting.
“And I certainly believe they are controversial,” Mr. Gaspar said.
“Who determines if they are controversial?” asked Mr. Cabral.
“We do,” Mr. Gaspar said.
The Selectboard continued to discuss the different articles. The Community Preservation Committee, is requesting $80,000 for a school playground; the Selectboard were in favor of that article.
The CPC had also submitted an article for a “Pollinated Garden” for $5,000, which prompted some discussion.
“Absolutely not,” Mr. Gaspar said.“I am not for it. And I’ve heard a little about this article and that we’re killing bees and they don’t have anywhere to go. Not for it.”
Mr. Desroches agreed that he was “okay striking this.”
Mr. Cabral wanted someone to attend a meeting to discuss the project with the board, however with Mr. Desroches and Mr. Gaspar in favor of wanting to strike the article he went with the majority.
The Selectboard quickly reviewed the FY21 budgets and determined that $1.1 million dollars was going to be cut from the FY21 budget and that even with the budget reductions that came in from the different departments, they were still looking at a $365,000 deficit.
“It’s unfortunate,” Mr. Gaspar said. “But we have to still cut monies.”
The Selectboard agreed to continue to review the budgets at their next meeting. They will also be discussing how to safely open Town Hall and departments when the Governor states it is okay to do so.
*Corrects error from previous versions. Not “Police” chief. The letter was from the fire chief, but Mr. Gaspar only said “chief.”
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