Budgeters, selectmen clash over salary increases
April 21, 2010
TILTON — The town clerk/tax collector and the town administrator have received salary increases from the Board of Selectmen, a decision the Budget Committee has publicly denounced because a vote at Town Meeting specifically denied the increases.
In March, voters approved a raise for Deputy Town Clerk/Tax Collector Andrea Keon but denied an increase in salary for TC/TC Cindy Reinartz and one for Town Administrator Joyce Fulweiler.
The deputy's wage increased by $1 per hour, for a total increase of $2,430 including Social Security, retirement, and Medicare.
After the selectmen's recent vote, the town administrator salary adjustment adds a total of $1,168 to the budget, while the town clerk/tax collector's salary adjustment adds a total of $4,849 to the budget.
Selectman Norm Boudreau voted against the salary increases, and Selectman David Wadleigh was absent from the board meeting at which they were discussed.
Budget Committee Chair Toni Belair submitted a letter to the editor to both the Laconia Daily Sun, which appeared last Thursday, and the Echo, which appears today, calling the selectmen's decision "morally and ethically wrong." She also voiced her disapproval last Wednesday at the first Budget Committee meeting after Town Meeting, where selectmen liaison Katherine Dawson defended the decision.
On Friday, Selectmen Chair Pat Consentino also defended the salary increases. She said that in the case of the town clerk/tax collector, the board was simply "righting a wrong" and that the public was confused and didn't have all the necessary information when it voted to deny the increases at Town Meeting.
She said the order in which raises were asked for by selectmen at Town Meeting was confusing, especially since a motion to add money back into the budget was made in the middle of the raise requests.
"People were confused," Consentino said. "They got nervous … they didn't know where their money was going."
Consentino also said that Dawson had tried to get Moderator Ken Randall's attention to explain the motion to increase the town clerk/tax collector salary, but the question was called before he saw her.
"We don't feel the townspeople got the whole gist," she said.
The gist, according to Consentino, is that the salary increase for the town clerk/tax collector position is just that – an increase, not a merit raise.
"When we came on board as selectmen a year ago, it was brought to our attention that when the town clerk and tax collector jobs combined, there was a motion made (at Town Meeting) to make the salary $45,000," Consentino said. "The vote passed, but it never happened … how it didn't happen is kind of confusing to me, but in any event the town clerk/tax collector didn't get the money."
During budget season prior to this year's Town Meeting, the board researched salary data for the same positions in similar towns and found that the TC/TC and the deputy TC/TC were making much less than the going rate.
Furthermore, Consentino said, the selectmen's budget came in thousands of dollars less than the Budget Committee's, even with the salary increases. The board did not include $50,000 for a contingency fund, and it reduced the police department's budget by taking money out of salary line items for an officer who is stationed overseas for the year, and for an officer who retired. Among other things, the board also took out several thousand dollars from the Pines Community Center's request; Consentino said the board wanted to motivate the Pines to seek grants rather than rely on the town for funding.
The board did leave the salary increases in is budget, and it still came in lower than the Budget Committee's.
"The townspeople weren't getting the lowest budget," Consentino said.
Since the board was "righting a wrong" by increasing the town clerk/tax collector's salary, it should not have been considered a raise, Consentino said.
"The only increase was (for) Joyce," she said. "We felt that was well deserved."
Belair said Friday that the Budget Committee had twice expressed disapproval of the salary increases prior to Town Meeting, because "it didn't feel proper" in light of the economy.
She said the committee did put in a raise for Finance Director Tim Pearson and met the board halfway in its request for an increase in the deputy TC/TC's salary.
"It's not like we froze out (all raises)," Belair said.
Belair said she felt compelled to write a letter after she heard that the board had increased the salaries after the townspeople had specifically voted them down.
"I couldn't just let it go," Belair said. "If this had not been voted down specifically … they were told no, they should have stuck with no."
Belair also said that increasing the TC/TC salary line is going against what residents voted for regardless of whether it's considered a raise.
"It's changing the money that was approved for her pay," she said.
Both Consentino and Belair said they hope this disagreement doesn't affect the way the board and the committee work together.
"We have a great relationship with them," Consentino said, noting that they strive for open and honest communication.
"We've worked fairly well throughout the years," Belair said. "They have a job to do and we have a job to do … sometimes our purposes might clash."