The Finance Committee reviewed changes in the compensation plan on Monday. Committee member David Bond was absent.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Finance Committee on Monday voted to recommend a change in the compensation plan that will raise the wages of nonunion employees.
The retroactive raises had essentially been approved by the council in June since they were included in the fiscal 2013 budget but were referred back to the Finance Committee at the City Council's Jan. 8 meeting.
"Obviously there's a financial impact to the mayor's recommendations even though he says it's been budgeted," said Chairman Alan Marden, who thought it would be a good idea to review the changes in light of the governor's budget and looming capital projects like Conte School.
Mayor Richard Alcombright has proposed a 1 percent raise retroactive to July 1, 2012, and another 1 percent effective Jan. 1 (also now retroactive). It also includes $5,000 stipends for the police and fire directors and the police lieutenant for divvying up responsibilities once handled by the public safety commissioner; adjustments of 8 percent for the city's dispatchers to bring them closer to the pay of surrounding towns and recognize their completion of Emergency Medical Dispatch training, and two clerical reclassifications, including a part-time clerk in public services.
The stipends for police and fire are coming out of funds left in the commissioner's salary line item since his retirement in September; the dispatchers were being paid out of the Verizon 911 grant, the clerk out of the public works department budget and retroactive raises had been budgeted in July.
There was not much disagreement over the stipends and the dispatchers but the committee and audience members sharply debated the need for the part-time clerk's raise from $10.28 to $12.24 an hour.
Committee member Lisa Blackmer questioned several times whether the clerk's 20 percent hike and extra hours were warranted, particularly when other more senior clerks were not getting extra. "What were we doing before?" she asked.
Public Services Superintendent Timothy Lescarbeau said the clerk had taken on duties related to water billing, including scheduling hookups and shutoffs, which had been moved out of the treasurer's office. The clerk also has taken on more responsibilities of technical nature (such as manually auditing bills), filling in on vacations and covering the mayor's office during lunch.
Councilor John Barrett III was not convinced that the raise was needed and said he had fielded complaints from more senior clerks who were not getting more money or more hours. Plus, he said, the part-timer would be making more than reserve police officers.
"This city is in serious, serious financial trouble in my mind," said Barrett, who repeated several times that the city had given out a half-million in raises over the last three cycles. He also reiterated his opposition to nonunion employees making more than $60,000 getting a raise. "We're told we're in a fiscal crisis but were telling the citizens that if you're in a special position you get more."
Alcombright responded that the clerk's increased responsibility justified the raise and objections to supervisors getting more was "bogus." Using Lescarbeau as an example, the mayor said he oversees a 23-person department, the water plant and hundreds of millions in equipment plus is on call 24 hours a day.
Raises had also been given out during Barrett's administration, said the former councilor. "All of them we voted on and all of them justified by their levels of responsibility."
Alcombright and Barrett, the former mayor, got into a testy exchange about budgets, compensation plans and ordinance wording until Chairman Alan Marden interjected that "we're going to adjourn very quickly if you to keep it up."
Barrett said he just wanted things to be done right and left the meeting. Lescarbeau, the former water filtration plant manager, said he'd taken a cut in pay to become public services superintendent and passed on other offers because "I love my city."
But those in attendance did agree there were problems with the compensation and classification plans, and inequities in steps that would give employees working side by side very different raises. Alcombright said two issues were listing of positions that no longer exist and classifications that don't accurately reflect responsibilities.
Councilor Nancy Bullett thought some of the issues could be clarified with consistent job descriptions that detailed responsibilities and work hours.
Alcombright said Administrative Officer Michael Canales had been working on a new personnel book. Many of the job descriptions had been completed and he hoped to have something for the councilors by the end of the fiscal year that could replace the ordinances.
"I've been trying to fix inequities in the compensation plan where I can and when I can," he said.
In response to questions, the mayor said he was aware of the lower wages for reserve officers and that was an issue he was going to take up during the police union negotiations. He cautioned that he had nine union negotiations to complete before the end of the fiscal year that would likely come with a price.
He also said he would have the solicitor review the wording of the ordinance for the compensation and classification update; Barrett said it was worded to strike out the entire plan rather than amend it.
Alcombright asked the committee to endorse the raises.
"All I'm saying is that I have the opportunity and the — quite honestly — the responsibility to give the raises I told the unonunion employees they were going to get, that we budgeted and that you passed."