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Staff Writer

AYER — After two separate and lengthy discussions, the Board of Selectmen voted to table the fiscal year 2009 cost of living adjustment (COLA) for nonunion employees because Chairman Gary Luca was not on hand.

Three different recommendations were presented to the board — by town administrator Shaun Suhoski, the Personnel Board and the Finance Committee.

The Personnel Board recommended a 3 percent pay increase, the Finance Committee wanted 1.5 percent and Suhoski called for 2 percent.

Selectman Pauline Conley started the discussion by saying she supported the Finance Committee’s recommendation of 1.5 percent, which did not sit well with Council on Aging Director Karin Dynice-Swanfeldt.

“We are the bloodline of the community and I’m ashamed that we’re rallying over a 1.5 percent COLA,” Dynice-Swanfeldt said. “I’m shaking I am so upset. For eight years I have done exactly what I am told and I am here speaking for the 17 people this COLA would affect.”

Selectman Cornelius “Connie” Sullivan said Dynice-Swanfeldt may be speaking for the nonunion employees but he was speaking for all the other taxpayers in Ayer.

“We’re in a recession, even though the experts aren’t calling it that,” Sullivan said. “People are walking away from their homes because they can’t pay their mortgages. Just walking through my neighborhood I see empty houses.”

Sullivan motioned for the discussion about the COLA to be continued, after a discussion and vote on the fiscal year 2009 omnibus budget, which passed unanimously.

Eventually the COLA was tabled until the next meeting.

The board also suggested it might be time for the Personnel Board to take a look at the current state of grid increases for town employees, which seemed to be the consensus of the crowd as well.

When the board started to discuss the line item for the town accountant, Sullivan and McCreary questioned the amount of money town accountant Lisa Gabree would be receiving as of July 1.

Under her new contract, Gabree would be reclassified as a financial manager and receive an increase of close to $9,000.

“I can’t justify a $9,000 increase to any town employee,” Sullivan said. “It was a rush to approve the contract and I just don’t think it’s effective to have an increase by that amount of money at this budget time.”

McCreary echoed the concerns of Sullivan.

“This feels way out of balance,” McCreary said. “At a time when we cut the school budget, asking them to forgo textbooks for their AP classes, it just feels out of balance.”

Sullivan added the payroll increase would make Gabree the third-highest-paid employee in the town.

Sullivan suggested the money be made up by decreasing the town accountant’s overall budget by the amount of the increase.

Gabree did not agree.

“I would not accept a cut in my budget and not pay my staff,” Gabree said. “That is not acceptable. I would seek other employment first. I don’t think I have to reiterate what I’ve accomplished in the town. I would never reduce my staff hours to cover for my increase. I’m not the greedy person some might make me out to be.”

Sullivan called Gabree a “great employee” but said he still finds it hard to justify the increase.

“When do you say no?” Sullivan asked. “When we file for bankruptcy as a town? I treat the town’s finances as if they’re my own.”

Sullivan’s motion to decrease the town accountant’s budget was defeated 2-2. Selectmen voted to table the discussion until the full board was present to vote.

Selectmen unanimously passed a motion to cut an additional $5,000 from the town counsel budget to bring the ending budget to $90,0000. The board also cut Public Buildings and Property Maintenance from $220,703 to $216,005 for a savings of $4,698.

Conley stated she was still in support of the Finance Committee’s initial cut of $4,500 in the selectmen’s budget but she was outvoted 3-1 when Sullivan motioned to accept the recommended budget of $160,206 for the board.

Members of the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals asked the selectmen to remove their budgets from the Planning and Development Board so they could have a more hands-on approach regarding their own money.

Conley passed the motion for the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals to have $17,616 and $16,422 respectively removed from the Planning and Development budget into their own line items. The motion passed 3-1 with McCreary the only opposed vote. Planning and Development would still include the Conservation Commission and their combined budget would be $43,477.