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Groton officials discuss union contracts, charter panel

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GROTON — The Finance Committee heard from Town Manager Mark Haddad on new contracts negotiated with five employee unions and the fate of a proposed Charter Review Committee.

Library Trustee Mark Gerath laid the case for using money from the town’s reserve fund to cover the cost of installing interior storm windows on 18 windows at the library building, most facing Main Street.

According to Gerath, the improvements were necessary because the old windows, which were never replaced when the new addition and renovations were made to the library building some years ago, were drafty.

Gerath told members that in the colder months, the rooms with the windows were unusable due to the cold and to get that use out of them before next spring, the interior storm windows would have to be installed “as soon as possible.”

Because the new window casings would be installed from the inside of the current windows (which would remain in place), there would be no trouble or time wasted with review by the Historic Districts Commission.

Cost for the new emplacements was estimated at $12,700.

Should the transfer of funds be approved, the library intended on converting the rooms that are now too cold to use in the winter, into offices.

“We’re going through space changes at the library,” said Gerath of the plans.

The Finance Committee voted to approve the transfer.

Also Tuesday, Haddad confirmed selectmen were too hasty in calling for various boards and committees to name representatives to a Charter Review Committee.

The move to start up the new committee was short-circuited after the Finance Committee brought to selectmen’s attention that wording in the Charter indicated that although a Review Committee could be appointed before spring Town Meeting, its work could only begin afterwards with recommendations if any to be made the following year.

At the time, the Finance Committee had been called upon by selectmen’s move to establish the Review Committee to appoint representatives to the new group.

But when the short deadline for those appointments was questioned and it was learned that a Review Committee was prevented from meeting to conduct its affairs until after spring town meeting, FinCom members began to wonder what the hurry was.

The question was referred back to selectmen who took up the issue Nov. 24 and according to Haddad, was settled when the town’s legal counsel confirmed the FinCom’s interpretation of the Charter.

With the new plan then calling for appointment of representatives delayed until the spring, Finance Committee members decided to take up the question in the new year and to name its representative in time for spring town meeting.

Haddad also briefed members on the fiscal 2016 budget-formulation process which he said had already begun with meetings with department heads to discuss their spending needs for the next year.

Haddad said he had given department heads instructions to form their budgets based on how they can best meet the needs of residents.

Haddad said once those meetings were concluded, he would assemble a draft of the proposed budget which he would then submit to selectmen by Dec. 31 as required by the charter.

A formal presentation of the proposed budget would then be made at a joint meeting of selectmen and the Finance Committee on Jan. 5.

Haddad also ran through contract agreements he had successfully negotiated with five of the town’s employee unions, including the town supervisors, superior police officers, full-time firefighters, police officers and communications officers.

For the town supervisory employees, the new contract that was retroactive to July of 2014 and effective to June 2018 will include a 2 percent raise for each of its three years, deferred compensation for payment of child care, and insurance coverage for eyeglasses even if they were not needed full-time.

For the superior police officers, the new contract that was retroactive to July 2014 and effective to June 2018, will include an increase in clothing allowance by $100 per year, weekly work hours to increase from 37.5 to 40 with current hourly pay rates to remain the same, a new stipend for “specialty assignments” that would match that currently given to officers, and the pay rate for private details increased from $45 to $48 an hour (with time and half for holidays).

For firefighters, the new contract that was retroactive to July 2014 and effective to June 2018, will include an increase in pay by 2 percent for each year of the agreement, overtime to be paid for training time, and an increase in the clothing allowance by $200.

For police officers, the new contract that was retroactive to July 2014 and effective to June 2018, will include an increase in hours from 37.5 to 40 per week, an increase in clothing allowance for years two and three by $100, the pay rate for private details increased from $45 to $48 an hour (with time and half for holidays), a $500 stipend if officers meet fitness standards, and additional funds made available for the purchase of ammunition for shooting practice.

For communications officers and radio dispatchers, the new contract that was retroactive to July 2014 and effective to June 2018, will include a 2 percent increase in salary over three years, time and half for working on Easter Sunday, stipends to be increased by $25 for holidays as well as for helping to train new employees, and increases of $50 each year for clothing and $25 for cleaning.

“I think (the new contracts) are very town-friendly,” said Haddad adding that the terms of the agreements would not threaten his proposed budget for fiscal 2016.

Still in the works are contract negotiations with the town’s library and Town Hall employees and Department of Public Works.

After praising town accountant Patricia Dufresne for her work, Haddad informed committee members he had also concluded a new three-year contract with her that would include a yearly salary set at $80,000.

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