LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — The Selectmen have asked Town Manager Paul Sieloff to back out all salary increases in his preliminary budget.
Sieloff walked the board through parts of his preliminary budget Monday night. The Selectmen asked him to take out all 2 percent increases for nonunion employees.
"I think we should discuss it before we start adding 2 percent to any one salary," Selectman Henry Sayers said. "I think it should be discussed before we add it to anyone or give anything out."
Sieloff said his draft is only the beginning of the budget process and after he collects department budget requests, he builds the budget and programs in a recommended salary increases. He said the Selectmen and the finance committee will have final say.
Chairman John Goerlach said he wished Sieloff discussed increases with the board beforehand because he is the first step in the process. He worried that Seiloff may have promised employees an increase the town officials may not be kosher with.
Sieloff said the employees know that his recommendation is not written in stone.
He added that he felt 2 percent was a reasonable amount that was financially responsible that still recognizes employees for their efforts.
"I feel comfortable with that one because I think it is important to maintain a certain level of salary," he said. "I want to recognize the employees that work here for the work that they do."
He added that a majority of these employees are part time and there are only a half-dozen who are full time. Also, health insurance increases have canceled out salary increases in the past.
In addition to this, Sieloff said these employees are nonunion and they do not have representation. He said he feels it is his responsibility to advocate for them.
Sieloff said he is proud of the staff and noted two employees who have remained committed to the town even though they recently underwent major surgery.
"I have a lot of respect for the efforts they made to come in here and help the town out. They really have a sense of ownership," he said. "We are a small town but we all try to push along together to get things done."
Sieloff noted that some Finance Committee members agree that salaries should stay flat or increase less than 2 percent but he urged the Selectmen to be careful when limiting salaries.
"I will tell you that I feel extremely strongly that the board should not go down the path of cutting salaries or keeping them flat," he said. "These are regular jobs that people work and the Berkshires are a tough place to live ... and there are a lot of challenges here and a 2 percent raise is not beyond the pale, in my opinion."
Goerlach noted that there have been years with larger increases than 2 percent.
Police Chief Tim Sorrell agreed but added there have been some very lean years with no increase.
Goerlach asked Sieloff to back out all the increases and provide a separate budget. He said next year he should discuss increases with the select board first so there is less backtracking.
Sayers said he wants to hold a meeting with the Finance Committee to find an agreed-upon increase that will be uniform throughout the budget.
In other business, the Selectmen voted to allow the Department of Public Works to overspend the snow and ice removal budget.
Sieloff said the DPW will blow through the $150,000 allocation.
"It kind of snuck up on us but the last couple of snow storm over the last few weeks have really taken a lot of funds," he said. "The DPW director foresees his budget line running out."
Sieloff said another $10,000 to $30,000 should get the town through the winter and he plans to use free cash to balance the line item.
He said he would like to increase the snow removal budget in the future to reflect a more normal winter like this year.
"Last year's winter was a nice mellow winter but this winter really feels normal," he said. "But here we are hitting the number."
The board also voted to use Green Community funds to pay for engineering for the Police Station improvement project.
Selectman Robert Ericson said he would like to add insulation and make the building more efficient.
He hopes to phase the project out into three parts so if the project gets out of hand, the town can stop or wait until it has more funds. He's also proposing to rely largely on volunteer work and penciled in a $12,859 budget mainly for materials.
Ericson said this budget would increase if a contractor has to be hired.
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