Town Meeting: Salaries raised to “market rate”, grilling over cemetery supervisor, and hiring an economic coordinator

Town Meeting voters approved more than $50 million in town budgets and expenditures last night. But there’s still a lot of business to be resolved tonight.

Residents didn’t question the bulk of the budget or the biggest expenses. Instead, much of the night was spent debating issues related to town personnel.

This year, the board asked voters to approve job re-classifications and salary adjustments to bring employees to market rate. The market rate assessments were determined based on a study of “competitive” towns. Chair Stephen Morreale pitched that replacing good employees who leave because they are underpaid is more expensive than treating them right.

Some were confused by language in the article. And at least one resident questioned the premise. John Muggeridge objected that an employee’s acceptance of a job defines the market rate, not a consultant’s study.

But most of the discussion revolved around an unrelated change to the town positions. The stipend added for a cemetery agent led to a grilling of the Personnel Board, selectmen, and the Department of Public Works head.

Referring to a controversy last spring, former Moderator John Wilson asked voters if they knew that last year they voted to eliminate the Cemetery Supervisor. Wilson rebuked selectmen for not listening to residents who made it clear they want a full-time Cemetery Supervisor.

Public Works head Karen Galligan justified that the cemetery work is 250 hours per year, while the town pays $66,000 for the employee. To make better use of the employee, the supervisor is working in the Highway Department and receives a stipend to cover her additional work as a cemetery agent.

Desiree Aselbekian and Karen Sokel asked multiple questions about the changes. At one point, Sokel shouted an accusation that Chair Bill Boland lied about the timeline of events last year. 

Put to a vote, the articles passed. Later, Sokel held the DPW budget for discussion to ask more questions about how the change saved money. Galligan explained that the cost savings was in providing more resources to the overburdened highway department.

Most of the budget passed without discussion. The one item that stirred debate was a request by the Economic Development Committee to fund a coordinator. Resident Steven Phillips questioned getting into an “arms race” with other towns.

EDC Chair David McCay told residents that other towns (and even countries) are “coming after” the businesses we have in town. McCay and others emphasized the importance of a higher vacancy rate in Route 9 buildings to increase tax revenues. And McCay explained that the coordinator needs to develop long term relationships, something an intern can’t provide.

Selectman John Rooney pitched to voters could approve the position as a test to be re-evaluated next year. Selectmen and Advisory did ask for a reduction to the requested salary by 3,640. The amended motion passed.

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