By Beth David, Editor
The Fairhaven Selectboard and town administrator Mark Rees faced some push-back from members of the Fairhaven Finance Committee on Monday, 4/30, on the proposed wage classification changes with its accompanying raises. FinCom members told the board that they did not have enough time to look at the details of the plan because they only got it the day before their last meeting. FinCom members expressed surprise at the size of raises that Mr. Rees and the Selectboard are recommending, one as much as $9,700 in one year.
The proposal re-classifies all non-union jobs and recommends new salary ranges, using a new grade and step system. The project has been talked about for years, but is labor intensive, so the town waited until it got a grant to hire a consultant to do the study, which included writing new job descriptions to reflect the work people actually do in those jobs.
The point is to achieve a level of equity in pay within the town and compared to other communities of similar size and demographics. The new grades and pay scale reflect better on what the jobs actually entail, said Mr. Rees. He said the consultant found that Fairhaven municipal salaries were far below wages in comparable communities.
Last year, the Selectboard budgeted $150,000 to accommodate the increase in salaries, in anticipation of the end of the report and implementation of the new plan.
Mr. Rees told the two boards that $74,000 is needed, not the $150K budgeted. He said that although the new ranges for pay jump up by huge percentages in some cases, he is not recommending that all positions suddenly start paying at the maximum.
He said that FinCom had a “robust” discussion about the changes.
Mr. Rees has made it a point to have a consensus budget to present to Town Meeting, with both the Selectboard and FinCom agreeing with his numbers.
FinCom chairperson Padraic Elliot said that his board had not reached consensus within itself. He said they were used to 1-3% raises, and needed time to study the numbers. He noted that there are “long term ramifications.”
He said the town had layoffs just ten years ago.
“Now, we’re talking about substantial changes to the pay structure,” said Mr. Elliot.
Completing the wage classification plan has been a priority goal of the Selectboard to improve morale and accountability among town employees.
Some FinCom members expressed dismay at some of the numbers.
The draft plan shows the rate system used; the grades and steps suggested for each job, with corresponding hourly rates and annual wages in real numbers. The annual salaries are based on a 40-hour work week. Most jobs are salaried, others are paid by the hour.
On Saturday, Town Meeting will be asked to appropriate the $74,000. The money has been set aside, but TM needs to appropriate it into the departments budgets.
Then, Mr. Rees will hold a public hearing and the Selectboard will need to vote to adopt the changes.
Backup documents for Article 5, which amends last year’s General Fund Budget, list the jobs under each department, the FY18 (last year) approved salary, the amount requested to amend the budget to give the raises, and the totals for each department. According to those documents, some employees will receive thousands more in pay, retroactive to last year; others will receive a few hundred.
The biggest winner, if approved by Town Meeting and subsequently adopted by the Selectboard, is Principal Assessor Delfino “Del” Garcia, with $9,734 bringing his FY18 salary to $72,904. The Grade 18/Step 1 suggested salary for him is $73,184 per year.
The Animal Control Officer would see a raise of $7,321.60, bringing his FY18 salary to $45,011.20. That job would be reclassified as Grade 11, with Mr. Cripps at Step 1, which is a salary of $45,184.32.
Highway Superintendent John Charbonneau would be another big winner, receiving $5,449.60 for an FY18 pay of $89,876.80. That job would be reclassified as a Grade 20, with Mr. Charbonneau coming it at step 4, for a total annual salary of $90,222.48.
Human Resources Director Anne O’Brien, in a newly created position that she started in the fall, would receive $5,275.20, for an FY18 total of $58,884 for the HR position at the level of Grade 18/Step 1, and $160 for her time as Assistant to the Town Administrator totaling $11,812 for FY18.
Fifth on the list is Kathy Tripp, Administrative Assistant for the Board of Public Works, who could see a raise of $4,659.20, bringing her FY18 pay to $67,828.80.
The Fire Department Executive Assistant Kristine Austin* will see a raise of $4,344.20 for an FY18 total of $57,220.80. Her job will be reclassified at Grade 12, with Ms. Audette starting at step 8. That is a $57,440.88 annual salary.
At number seven are two positions, with Council on Aging Director Anne Silvia and Recreation Director Warren Rensehausen each getting $3,369.60, bringing them both to $59,529.60 for FY18. Both jobs are classified as Grade 15, and both directors would start at step 1, which is a $59,759.56 annual salary.
Those totals are for retroactive, FY18 wages. FY19 salaries, which Town Meeting will also be voting on this Saturday, are submitted on the old system, but the amount of money needed to implement the new system has been included, in anticipation of the new classifications going into effect this summer.
After the system is in place, employees would receive merit raises based on performance. The new system has 22 grades, and each grade has nine steps.
The change requires the public hearing and a vote by the Selectboard to be implemented, in accordance with the bylaw that created the Town Administrator position and eliminated the Personnel Board. During the rest of the process, the numbers could change. The Selectboard could decide not to adopt the plan at all, to move some jobs to other grades, or to change specific positions from starting at certain steps.
The first thing that needs to happen, though, is for Town Meeting to vote to distribute the money that has already been appropriated for the FY18 (last year) changes.
Selectboard member Charles Murphy, who was on the now-defunct Personnel Board, said it was a goal for years, but it was too labor intensive for a volunteer board.
Selectboard member Bob Espindola said the change was a long time coming and the cost was not as high as they had first thought it would be.
“This is something we can afford to do,” he said, emphasizing that he made sure it was a sustainable change.
Selectboard chairperson Daniel Freitas acknowledged that some people will feel it is long overdue, while others will feel that town employees should just be happy they have jobs.
He also said that when the union employees got raises, the town asked for something in return. He questioned that some of the salaries seem to be as much as 50% off.
“We’re looking at huge increases,” said FinCom member Lisa Plante.
“It doesn’t sit well with me personally,” said FinCom member and former superintendent of schools Bernard Roderick. “This is a very serious document.”
He reminded the board that they do not have to take a consultant’s work as a mandate.
“I think we should tread lightly,” he said.
FinCom member Kathleen Carter echoed that sentiment saying that the town can pick and choose from a consultant’s report.
“They do not run the town,” said Ms. Carter. “We need to look out for the taxpayers.”
Mr. Freitas said that the Selectboard had a little more time than FinCom, so that is probably why they are comfortable with the numbers. He added that he had the “utmost faith in Mr.Rees.”
Human Resources Director Anne O’Brien also worked on the proposal with Mr. Rees.
Fire Chief Timothy Francis told the board on Monday that he was having trouble keeping Call Firefighters, who are vital to the department’s operation. He said other communities pay more so they often opt to go where the money is better. He asked that they at least move forward.
“They’re not [going to] wait another year,” said Chief Francis.
Public works superintendent Vincent Furtado told the board that the change was a long time coming. He said he has two superintendents who are at their maximum steps, one for 16 years, one for 23 years. They are close to retirement and he will not be able to fill the positions at the current rates.
The FinCom did not vote on Monday. Both boards were scheduled to meet on Wednesday night before th precinct meetings. Town Meeting is Saturday morning.
*CORRECTION: Fixes error from previous versions, Austin, not Audette.
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