TOWNSEND — The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to grant non-union town employees a pay raise of 3.5 percent, but any future raises may depend upon increases in the town’s tax base.
Finance Committee chairman Donald Klein and Planning Board Chairman Jeffrey Peduzzi attended the Tuesday night board meeting, and their comments spurred some passionate discussion both in favor of the raises, and how to attract more business into the town.
Klein said unless the town does something to increase the tax base, raises in the future may not be possible.
”Unless we do something within the town to start generating additional revenues, I don’t know what we are going to do,” Klein told the board. He cited rising snow removal, heating, energy, school and health care costs as big-ticket items that are eating away at the free cash account.
”We were frugal last year and put aside money, but it looks like we’ll be using up all of our free cash to balance the budget this year,” said the FinCom chairman.
Peduzzi addressed the pay-raise issue, and put the onus of attracting new business to town on the selectmen.
”At what point do we allow snow and ice removal, or leave street lights on, instead of taking care of our employees?” Peduzzi asked.
”I hear from the employees, the simple folks who see new fire trucks and equipment coming in, and they’re stuck in the mud,” Peduzzi said. “The non-union employees take all the cuts. We do the minimum for the departments and then they get what’s left.”
Selectman Peter Collins said the town has a better chance of seeing the “Second Coming” than to see an increased tax base.
”Municipal employees are underpaid, that’s the way it is,” Collins said.
Peduzzi warned selectmen that if the town cannot offer competitive salaries, they will lose staff and that would place a large burden on volunteers.
Peduzzi then angered Collins by stating, “the only way to resolve this is for you selectmen to aggressively solicit business and raise some revenue. This board has to increase our tax base.”
Collins banged his fist on the table, which startled town administrator Gregory Barnes.
”Everyone wants to attract more business in town,” Collins complained, “and then some poor son-of-a-gun has to go through 18 hearings to open a flower shop.” The responsibility for attracting and keeping new business rests with all boards, he said, not just the selectmen.
”This town has a staunch stand to retain it’s rural character, and it’s this bang-your-head-against-the-wall mentality, and comments like yours, that make me glad I’m leaving,” said the selectmen, who has announced his resignation from the board.
Peduzzi said the planners have written many zoning by-law changes, more than any other board, and a potential solution would be for all boards to work together to re-zone portions of town to make things more friendly to business.
”Every time we start to get some traction on this, someone throws oil under the tires,” Collins countered.
”Back in the 1980s, this town was lined with craft shops and coffee houses,” Collins noted. “So where are they now? They’re still stuck in the woods doing acid.”
”We’re in a 40B housing race, and that does not generate any revenues,” said Klein. “Those cost us money, so we should look at an over-55 housing situation. That at least does not cost us anything for school services,” he said.
Collins said another way to generate revenue is to sell off some parcels of land that have little value to the town.
”Town Properties has identified some parcels that would be better served on the tax rolls,” Collins said. “These are unbuildable lots that people have expressed interest in. I vote we should bring them forward for disposal at town meeting.”
The board voted to adopt the pay increases, and accepted Collins’ suggestion to sell off some land for a one-time revenue increase.
After the meeting, Peduzzi said he was there to show support “for the little guy. Our people are good of heart. Their pay is not up there, but they love to serve the community.”