Town Meeting knocks out salary cuts

SHIRLEY — Annual Town Meeting dispatched only five of 19 articles on the warrant before adjourning at 10:30 Monday night. The meeting was continued to Tuesday night.

The first four articles passed without discussion, including supplemental appropriations for three accounts that went over budget in fiscal 2015: public buildings expenses, snow and ice and police salaries and wages.

Conversation heated up with Article 5, which sought “compensation” for the boards of assessors and selectmen — $300, respectively — and for two elected officials: town clerk and town collector, with 2 percent cost-of-living increases and overall salary reductions of about $12,000 for each position.

The pay cuts were based on a “hard close” of Town Offices on Fridays that would have reduced their time on the clock from 40 to 32 hours per week.

Town Collector Holly Haase and Town Clerk Amy McDougall spoke out against the cuts, outlining their job descriptions and underscoring their functional importance to the town, including state-mandated duties. Both said that without assistants employed in their offices, 32 hours wasn’t enough time to do it all.

Selectman Bob Prescott said the reductions were part of a consolidation and restructuring plan that would “create efficiencies” and would not impact “direct services” to townspeople.

But Haase, McDougall and others said the plan would, in fact, do just that.

Town Meeting approved an amendment that restored the original salaries.

When the Omnibus Budget — Article 6 — came up, it was clear there would be no balanced budget at the end of this Town Meeting, which as resident John Oelfke pointed out, was not a must-do anyway, as long as it’s balanced in time to set the tax rate next fall.

Perhaps buoyed by that assurance but more likely just doing what they came for, voters continued to shore up the status quo. They restored every line item under the Town Government and Land Use categories slated for the chopping block, including the selectmen’s executive assistant and the principal assessor, whose salaries would have been cut due to the “hard close” edict.

The full-time building inspector also escaped the ax, as did part-time electrical wiring, plumbing and gas inspectors.

With the budget still on the table and controversial school assessments coming up, Town Meeting was to resume Tuesday night.