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North Adams Finance Advises Salary Review for Nonunion Workers

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Finance Committee is recommending a comprehensive study of the city's compensation and classification plan to bring it up to contemporary standards.
The committee also felt the study should include the mayor's salary.
"I think that our way we post jobs in the classification is archaic, at best, and also dates back to 1950," said member Wayne Wilkinson at Monday's meeting. "There should be an outside, independent somebody who comes in and let's finally look at it."
The plan had been put on the agenda as part of the discussion on salaries, most recently for a librarian post and the mayor. Committee members noted that city's compensation rates have made it hard to attract and retain employees.
"The assessor left for not just a little bit more money, but a lot more money," said Chairwoman Lisa Blackmer. "I think we need to look at it holistically and look at all of it." 
The committee agreed that any salary study concentrate on nonunion positions since public union wages are already negotiated.
City Councilor Peter Oleskiewiecz asked if the dispatchers should be included in the study. The committee thought so, with Wilkinson describing them as "grossly underpaid" and Blackmer saying they should be part of a broader conversation of placing them into public safety or regionalizing.
The committee voted to refer the study proposal to the mayor's office with the hope a grant or reserve funds could be found to begin the process.
Mayor Thomas Bernard asked the City Council last week to increase the youth services librarian position from Step 1 to Step 5 of the city's compensation plan, which would raise the starting salary to $40,399 from $32,608 after two candidate searches failed because applicants declined the position due to the salary.
The committee is recommending the change but contingent on the City Council amending the ordinance so it will allow the administration to set starting steps "based on experience, education, and certifications."
The ordinance reads that employees must start at Step 1, or entry level, in the compensation plan; some job classifications avoid this by starting at Step 3 or 4.  
"Our hands are tied because of the way the ordinance was done," said Blackmer, adding "people have to spend their time and money to get their certifications and they need to be paid accordingly." 
The General Government Committee will also review the ordinance at its meeting on Tuesday.
Councilor Marie T. Harpin had asked that the mayor's salary be raised as a way to interest "qualified" candidates to run for the office. Bernard is not running for re-election so any raise would be for the new mayor.
Committee member Keith Bona said he would not back a raise to get a particular candidate to run.
"I would not give a raise because of the candidate," said Bona. "This is not a raise to the mayor, it's a raise for a position."
The council had declined to raise the mayor's salary last month, with the majority of members feeling it should be reviewed by Finance or put off until budget deliberations. 
The Finance Committee mirrored those sentiments, voting to continue a review of issue and referred it back to the mayor's office.
"I think we need to get some data as well and definitely the answer from this administration," said Bona. "We know that we're not going to see an increase request come through so ... refer it to the mayor, and then basically we can just be prepared for the next administration if they decide something different."
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COVID Outbreak Hits North Adams Nursing Home; Health Officials Urge Vaccination

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Health officials are trying to determine if a significant outbreak of COVID-19 at a local nursing home is the highly transmissible Delta variant. 
North Adams Commons reported three vaccinated residents with infections as of Friday morning. The total is now 20 residents and two staff members, said Lisa Gaudet, a spokesperson for Berkshire Healthcare that operates the nursing home. Only one of those is unvaccinated, she said. 
The 119-bed skilled nursing facility is now closed to visitors and new admissions as health officials track down the source of the infection and determine if it's a variant. Gaudet said all residents and staff were being tested so the numbers may change. 
"Clearly we're hearing in the national and local news about variants that are creating these breakthrough cases," Gaudet said. "We benefited from this vaccination when we saw all of our infections go down ... So this is something that is obviously concerning to us."
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