SHIRLEY — The most contested – and perhaps the most confusing – issue to come up at the three-hour Special Town Meeting Monday night was whether or not three proposed salary hikes should be tied to Proposition Two-and-a-Half override requests.
The three positions were the DPW assistant and Council on Aging and library directors, respectively.
Adding 10 hours to the DPW assistant’s job, upping it from 20 to 30 hours per week, would cost the town $6,677 more this year. Increasing the COA director’s hours would add $6,677 to the bottom line and make the position full time versus part time, while another $4,652 dollars would help close a work versus pay gap for the library director.
Presented as appropriation amendments in the context of 11 separate Line Items listed in Article 3, voters at first agreed to make the requested increase for the DPW clerical assistant’s position subject to passage of a tax override.
However, after debating pros and cons of that approach on two other such proposals and hearing strong arguments against going the override route, voters changed their minds.
COA Director John Oelfke said the availability of the Senior Center and programs, both in-house and through outreach, are linked to the hours the director is on the job. Simply put, the center is open when he’s there, closed when he’s not. Right now, he puts in more time than he’s paid for, he said. The hours are needed, the money is available and tax overrides don’t have a successful history in town, he said, summing up the situation.
Library Board of Trustees Chairman Elizabeth Quinty said the trustees’ aim was to pay Library Director Deb Roy for work she already does. “We can’t afford not to do this,” she said, citing circulation up from 4,000 to 12,000 and many added duties the director has absorbed. “We feel she deserves to be paid for the job she does,” Quinty said. She spoke out of turn, since that line item hadn’t come up yet, but she got the point across.
Apparently convinced, Town Meeting voted against making the COA director’s salary hike subject to an override, then sought a chance to re-visit that earlier yes vote.
Town Collector Holly Haase asked if the previous vote could be brought back for reconsideration.
Town Moderator George Knittel did not favor going back for reconsideration but he allowed it, cautioning that it would be done by the book.
On reconsideration, the vote was no.
With layered amendments piling up and Line Items overlapping, the lengthy discussion often ranged freely among the three items, although they were considered one at a time.
As debate continued, Selectmen Chairman Andy Deveau presented a different slant on the question than board members discussed at previous meetings, when the stated aim was that only funding for a new police officer’s position would be subject to an override.
At that time, Deveau posited that funding to add hours and increase salaries for the other three positions in question – DPW assistant, COA and library directors – was relatively small by comparison and that money was available in this year’s budget anyway. If things got tight later, the increases could be rescinded if necessary, he said.
Now, the board backed the Finance Committee’s recommendation to fund all of the job-related increases listed under Article 3 via override bids. Absent passage of an override, the committee felt that these requests, while justified, “could wait another year,” to see how the tax situation shapes up, acting Chairman Mike Swanton said. .
Swanton said one of his committee’s concerns was the “sustainability” of these positions. “We want to avoid digging ourselves the same hole” that resulted when non-recurring funding sources were used for recurring expenses, such as salaries, he said.
For example, MCI prison money was used to bolster the budget, time and again, but things collapsed when the money ran out.
Principal Assessor Becky Boucher explained how the process works. The override would raise taxes permanently, she said. But the added revenue from it can only be targeted for its intended purpose in the first year, after which the money goes into the general fund. “The goal is to promote sustainability,” she said.
When Rachel Sizer asked if there were guarantees to ensure the override-funded positions would continue after the first year, Treasurer Kevin Johnston said that was up to Town Meeting. “This is the most fiscally responsible mechanism” to meet sustainability goals, he said.
The message seemed clear. If “sustainability” means raising revenue to cover increasing costs over time, bypassing the limits of Proposition 2/1 2 is one way to do that.
Responding to Sizer’s comment about overrides voted in for trash pickup, which was later “taken away,” Swanton said the Finance Committee doesn’t “take away” funding. “This room decides…” how funds are allocated, he said. “The problem we’ve had in the past is that we continue to vote” for budget requests “without a sustainable revenue source.”
In the end, only funding for an added police officer was tied to an override. The others all passed without it.
The total “annualized cost” for all four positions would have been $113,166, according to Chief Administrative Officer David Berry.
Deveau said the annualized cost to hire another full-time police officer would be $73,495.
Depending on whether that figure includes added expenses for uniforms and the town’s share of health insurance premiums, the override request should be in that neighborhood.
Deveau said the selectmen plan to hold the override election on Nov. 6, with the presidential election.