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Some Wenham Pay Raises Appear Headed to Town Meeting

With no consensus from the Finance and Advisory Committee and the Board of Selectmen, residents will be asked to cast their vote on salary increases for several town department heads on Tuesday.

Wenham voters are expected to be asked to approve spending $18,000 to go towards pay increases for department heads and other staff positions at Tuesday's Special Town Meeting. 

The Finance and Advisory Committee was asked to support Article 8 of the Town Meeting warrant during a joint meeting with the Board of Selectman this week after Chairman Molly Martins shared the outcome of an analysis of similar towns with similar positions in order to determine the going market rate. The FinComm did not end up giving its support to the funding level, $20,000, proposed by Selectmen.

When Selectmen met with the FinCom in October, to determine if Wenham’s non-union employees were on par with the going rate of pay for similar positions.

The top three positions the two committee focused on were DPW director, police chief and town administrator. But another position of equal, if not greater concern, was finance director, since it became vacant this week , who was earning about $25,000 less than those in similar positions in area towns.

A two-page report was handed out to FinCom members but not available to the public when both sub committees met this week. On Thursday, Traci Masterson, assistant to Town Administrator Jeff Chelgren, said the report was not yet complete and would be made public midday on Monday at the earliest.

Martins reported the results for seven of the communities that were surveyed and noted that the Board of Selectman are awaiting results from the consultant for the remaining four communities in order to finalize the average market rate.

A comparison compiled last year than employees in similar positions in comparable area communities.

This week, Martins asked FinCom members to approve moving money from the reserve fund to fund the raises, since the town has $150,000 in the reserve fund, which is under the FinCom's control. She said that the FinCom had always managed this account confidently without ever going over the allotted amount.

In the end, FinCom members rejected the idea, 1-1, with two members abstaining. Chairman Catherine Harrison voted for the move, Ted Richard voted against it and two members, Anne O’Connor and Jack Wilhelm, abstained. Wilhelm said he felt members who were not present should be present to advise and consult with other colleagues.

O’Connor said that although she believed employees should be paid what positions are worth, there was a concern about the state of the economy.

“Our own company has not given raises in five years despite the company doing well globally,” said O’Connor.

Wilhelm said he agreed in principle with Martins but said he was concerned about drawing from the reserve fund five months into the fiscal year. The reserve fund, Wilhelm said, is for unanticipated items, including things such as extraordinary costs associated with snow and ice removal, which earlier this year cost the town more than $17,000.

Ted Richard said the analysis concluded that the water commissioners in other towns were paid less and wondered if they should cut the salary of Wenham’s Water Commissioner.

Martins said the FinCom has an obligation to take a position or an action on the request, firing a friendly shot at Richard.

“[Selectmen] get paid for the job to look at the overall situation,” said Martins, and added, “Your job is to provide the checks and balances; Sometimes fiscal prudence is like cutting the nose to spite the face."

Richard replied by saying he was “willing to roll the dice.”

While the timing is not the most amenable, Martins admitted, she felt the obligation to acknowledge adjustments to compensation was crucial to keeping good people.

“We have a difference in Mylanta levels….there is a risk for the BOS as we have pressure [as the body responsible for personnel and hiring]…and department heads could leave,” Martins warned.

Richard has repeatedly stated in meetings he is seeking ways to reduce the tax rate.

Martins responded to Richard’s concern about the tax rate and noted the rate is only $17.17 and not $18.14.

“All these individuals have had a direct impact on savings to the corporation,” she said.

Former Selectman Harriet Davis, who was looking on when the FinCom and Selectmen met, said afterward that she has heard some town officials suggest that Chelgren could leave if salaries are not be adjusted to make up for the differences versus similar communities. Davis said she was also concerned that part-time Fire Chief Bob Blanchard was not considered for a salary increase.

“He is the only part-time fire chief in the area but he deserves consideration,” said Davis.

Davis also was surprised the pay comparison report was not made public, stating that town counsel had advised Selectmen during her tenure “that any piece of paper put on the table was part of the public record.”

The FinComm is scheduled to next take up the issue when it meets on Tuesday night, an hour before the is scheduled to begin at to make a final recommendation at Town Meeting.

This article has been corrected to show that the DPW director, and not library director, is one of the positions both committees are looking at for pay raises to bring the salary closer to similar communities.

Jay Burnham November 05, 2011 at 10:28 AM
Seriously? Pay RAISES in this economy? We all know people that have LOST their jobs because of current economic conditions. Seriously? Wenham's tax rate would be $18.14 (quote, Molly Martins) instead of $17.17 (already the third highest on the North Shore) if not for the individuals who are seeking raises? I don't think so.
Jack November 05, 2011 at 01:14 PM
Jay - I totally agree with your points, this is a down economy, we must all share the pain and the tax rates are stratospheric (as long as the top tier would realize they too should share a little of the "pain" - different topic for sure, but we are in this together and the concept of the "pain" very relative). However, the "Seriously?" may be due for a rest! It's funny once a week on SNL but like anything else it loses it's impact if overdone...
Mary November 05, 2011 at 01:29 PM
It is also very disturbing that it appears that only a few select individuals are being recommended to have their pay adjusted, while many others, who are as far below, or farther below, the "average" of the market are not being addressed? And it appears that this may be because one or some of the recommended individuals may have indicated that they may leave? So, does Wenham now open itself up to the appearance of discrimination/favoritism? And/or does this send the message that employees/unions simply need to "hold their breath and pout" with the Selectmen to get what they want? We seem to be headed for very dangerous territory.
george LaMontagne November 05, 2011 at 02:23 PM
Why hasn'T the Wenham Fin Com had a warrant hearing on this issue to take a position on the town meeting floor????
Gardner McCormick November 05, 2011 at 03:55 PM
I find it very hard to believe that compensation issues for town employees are being brought to Town Meeting for a vote. This is a managment issue ands since the Board of Selectmen are charged with the managment of town personnel, they should take on the resoposibility of managing. This is not an issue that should be decided by Town Meeting and will only open up an endless and emotional debate.
Catherine Hardy-Tinsley November 05, 2011 at 06:26 PM
The BOS presented the funding request for the compensation to the Finance Committee for a Reserve Fund transfer at their November 2 meeting. The Reserve Fund is money approved at the annual town meeting for unexpected costs during the fiscal year and is under the authority of the Finance Committee. The Finance Committee did not approve the request from the BOS, therefore as an expense not approved in the annual budget, the funding must be appropriated by a Town Meeting. I hope this helps explain the process.
Jay Burnham November 06, 2011 at 11:31 AM
Okay Jack...I'll try mixing it up with "are you kidding me?" and "you're joking, right?" Seriously. ;-)

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