Increases for top policemen referred back to commission

by Thomas Beeler
Editor of The Granite State News
December 12, 2013
WOLFEBORO — Police Commission Chair Ron Goodgame came to the Dec. 4 Wolfeboro Board of Selectmen meeting looking for approval of 2014 increases above the town's two percent budget guideline for Chief Stuart Chase and Lt. Dean Rondeau.

While he did not get that approval and had the matter tossed back to his commission, he did get some clear views from selectmen on the decision.

When the Police Commission approved its 2014 budget submission it had, following the guidelines given by selectmen, included only a two percent increase for non-union personnel, which included Chief Chase and Lt. Rondeau. The selectmen included those increases in the operating budget, which is now being reviewed by the town Budget Committee.

A problem arose when both Chase and Rondeau pointed out that the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that each received when hired specified that they were to receive that same increases as the rank-and-file officers in the department. The Wolfeboro Police Union had negotiated an increase of 3.5 percent for 2014.

The total difference in compensation for the two officers between a two percent and a 3.5 percent raise was $1,684.80 in 2014. Chief Chase's proposed 2014 salary with a two percent increase would be $81,114.80 ($39.19/hour) and Lt. Rondeau's would be $71,016.40 ($34.31/hour).

The police commission brought this issue up during its presentation to the Budget Committee and that committee deferred to the Board of Selectmen, Goodgame said, noting that the committee will take up the raises again at its meeting the following week.

The chief and lieutenant learned of the two percent decision after the police commissioners voted for it in non-public session, Goodgame said. Both then produced their MOUs from 2006 and said that when they negotiated the agreements they understood that they were to be given increases at no less than the rate given to union personnel. They also felt the agreements as written were not clear on this issue and should be clarified.

Chief Chase verified Goodgame's account and said he had a conference call with MRI, the firm used to hire him, and the commissioners, where he asked that raises granted be the same. He acknowledged that the resulting agreement did not make this clear, but he has been given the same increase as full time employees even before the police union was formed.

Town Manager Dave Owen responded that he "had great respect for Chief Chase and Lt. Rondeau," but had to point out the MOUs were adopted in 2006. For 2014 the union negotiated for a 3.5 percent increase but gave up the five-step pay plan already in place in order to get the 3.5 percent raise. Owen pointed out that the chief and lieutenant did not give up anything. "You can't apply collective bargaining adjustments to non-union personnel," he said. "I've done this for years and never seen top manager asking for the same terms."

Included in the selectmen's information packet was an email from Attorney Daniel Schwarz, of Jackson Lewis, giving the opinion "I see nothing to support the notion that the MOU referred to COLA adjustments negotiated by the Union especially where the Union did not exist at the time the MOU was executed."

Selectman Dave Senecal read from Lt. Rondeau's MOU that "The maxium salary for this position shall be set at $65,000.00," and pointed out that in 2013 his salary was over $69,000. "It appears the lieutenant owes us money," he said. Accepting the lieutenant's MOU at face value no increase is due. "As for the Chief, he is entitled to a cost of living adjustment."

Selectman Linda Murray stated that in 2005 voters reaffirmed that the Police Commission should continue to exist. "I don't believe the Board of Selectmen can act here. Pay is up to the commission. The MOUs should be looked at as agreements between the commission and the chief and lieutenant." She added that originally the board had asked department heads for a zero increase in discretionary spending.

Selectman Brad Harriman said he agreed the decision is up to the commission.

Selectman Dave Bowers said the matter is "confusing" but should be worked out by the commission. He noted a situation where a department head had forgot to include something in the budget and was told the matter was closed.

Selectman Chair Sarah Silk said she has been on the selectboard since 2005 and has never received a raise (not counting the extra $500 she has received when serving as chairman). She agreed the commission has the authority to set pay and noted that Chairman Goodgame has said he will look at the MOUs for next year. "It's not that much money, so the commission could raise it by taking out something else. The Board of Selectmen gives raises to department heads that are not the same as staff."

Selectmen then voted 5-0 to support whatever decision the commission makes.

Goodgame asked specifically if selectmen support the $1,700 in additional raises.

Silk responded that the board vote supports the commission making the decision.

Other business

Following receipt of a petition objecting to the lay out of Winnipesaukee Drive and payment of the cost to upgrade to town road standards through a Betterment Assessment paid only by property owners, the board voted to drop the $1,122,000 article supporting the lay out from the 2014 warrant. See separate story in this issue.

Selectmen went over the list of warrant articles again and made few changes. A cost of $50,000 was added to the warrant for temporary town offices, assuming the reduced scope renovation of Town Hall was approved. An article was added to create a Wastewater Treatment Plan Capital Reserve and make an initial payment of $125,000 into it.

The board approved the proposed lease for temporary town offices with Huggins Hospital. The terms and the rent are unchanged from that negotiated in 2011.

Selectmen also renewed the boat agent agreement with Goodhue & Wakins Navy Yard, allowing the company to continue registering boats in Wolfeboro along with Town Clerk Pat Waterman.

Owen announced that the special primary election to fill the Executive Council seat left vacant by the death of Ray Burton would be held on Tuesday, Jan 21.

Owen also reported that as a result of complaints about the speed to the town's website, Virtual Town Hall has tweaked the site and added resources, so it should be faster.

Only one bid was received for the 2013 Town Report. It was from the same printer as last year, Country Press of Lakeville, Mass., but $200 cheaper.

Owen has sent a report to the Department of Justice on the completion of the Town Hall parking lot ADA upgrade, the final step in the town completing the ADA suit settlement agreement.

The town has received a notice from ASCME that the union wishes to begin contract renewal negotiations sooner than in the past.

The board congratulated Owen on being elected President of the New Hampshire Town Managers Association. He was to represent the state at the joint New Hampshire-Maine Town Managers Meeting on Friday, Dec. 6.

The next meeting of the Wolfeboro BOS will be on Wednesday, Dec. 18 at 6:30 p.m. in the Wolfeboro Public Library meeting room.

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