SHIRLEY -- With a pressing need to fill the job Council on Aging Director John Oelfke will vacate when he retires Feb. 1, COA Chairman Jon Pender asked selectmen Tuesday night to maintain the 28-hour per week status quo rather than return to the original 19 hours funded for the position when it was created, shortly after the COA was reconstituted in 2009.

The selectmen, however, opted for Town Administrator Patrice Garvin's recommendation to advertise the position at 19 hours, citing the town's inability to come up with another $18,000 to pay for health insurance, which at 28 hours would come with the job. With the FY2014 budget running a deficit, the money isn't there, Garvin said.

When Town Meeting agreed last year to up his hours Oelfke pledged not to sign up for insurance, but a new hire would be a different story. Garvin said that's the problem. "You raised the person's hours, not the position's" and used one-time funding (MCI money) to pay for it, she said. Not a good idea, in her view and she'd never advise doing that. "It's a sticky wicket because of how it was done," she said.

The nine-member COA board voted to recommend keeping the job as is, Pender said.

Speaking from a prepared statement, Pender outlined the chronology of the position since its creation and sketched the director's job description, which in the board's opinion Oelfke has fulfilled and then some.


"John was selected by our COA interview committee, recommended to the full COA board, which approved the recommendation, which then went to Town Meeting, he said.

Oelfke was appointed and "has done an outstanding job for the seniors in Shirley," Pender said, noting that he created programs, produced a COA newsletter and secured grants. "We are sorry to see John go, but wish him every happiness in his retirement and future endeavors," Pender concluded.

The selectmen said they'd revisit the position if it turns out that 19 hours isn't enough.

In that case, Garvin said, there might be creative ways to solve the insurance problem, such as job sharing. And If there's a bright side to the current situation, it's that funding fewer hours for the director allows the town to redirect that cost savings to pick up half of the part time outreach worker's $9,400 annual salary, as the COA is requesting.

The position is now paid by a grant from the Friends of the Council on Aging, but the grant will run out next year, Pender said. Not only would the proposed salary split allow the COA to stretch the position out another year, the town could also ease into adding the entire position to its payroll, Pender said.