$67K in raises for town workers OK’d

Department heads: Increases are long overdue

RINDGE — The Select Board approved a total of $67,195 in raises and benefits for town employees at its April 16 meeting.

The funds for the raises will come from a variety of sources.

Rindge will save $30,000 because the police detail budget has enough money to cover the cost of the new SUV for the department.

“The police detail budget had a substantial balance in it. The warrant article that was passed in March allows the funds from this revolving account to be used for the purchase of cruisers,” said Interim Town Administrator Jane Pitt in a recent interview.

In the past, when Executive Secretary Nicole Sesia was out of the office, the town would pay someone to cover for her.

“We realized that we didn’t need to pay for a fill-in any longer. I could fulfill those duties if Nicole is out,” Pitt said.

The change should save about $4,778, Pitt said.

The town also received a grant from Cheshire County that will cover its legal budget expenses, totaling $3,150 and the town will save $2,000 because the Planning Board did not receive a grant they had hoped to get for the towns rail trail fund and therefore will no longer pursue the rail trail improvements this year.

The remaining $27,267 was in the wage pool to begin 2014.

“We were able to find a number of savings while going through the budget process this past winter,” said Pitt.

The raises, which Pitt said were “long, long, long overdue,” come in the wake of the Police Department receiving raises after working with the Select Board to bring their wages up to a competitive level. The increases went into effect Jan. 1.

According to a press release from the town, substantial increases are being given to employees in the Public Works Department whose hourly rates were well below the rates paid by other comparable towns. On-call firefighters will receive their first wage increase in 10 years.

According to Pitt, the only town employees who will not be receiving raises are the part-time librarians, department heads, and recreation department workers.

“The department heads are on contracts and their pay is reviewed once those contracts are up. Recreation Department employees are paid out of a revolving fund that doesn’t impact the town’s budget,” said Pitt.

When asked the last time that workers in Rindge’s municipal departments were given raises across the board, neither Pitt or Financial Director Ellen Smith knew.

“It was before our time,” Smith said.

Pitt started as interim town administrator in December, while Smith has been with the town since 2011.

The raises will not have a tax impact in 2014. The only foreseeable impact on next years budget would come with any state-mandated increase to the N.H. retirement system, according to the press release.

“I hope that all town employees are happy with the raises, they are long overdue,” said Select Board Chair Bob Hamilton.

According to town officials, the increases will bring the town employees’ earnings up to competitive levels. Town officials came up with the raise figures by comparing current wages with those of employees of similar-sized towns.

“We compared to towns of similar size that are also not unionized. We did not compare to towns like Keene or Manchester,” said Smith.

After doing that research, town officials sat down with department heads and discussed pay raises for each department’s employees. The percentage amounts of the raises vary based on the department head recommendations.

“If employees are unhappy with these raises, it’s on the department heads,” said Hamilton.

The town plans to maintain competitive wages for its employees so that in the future all town employees are compensated fairly, according to Pitt.

“We need to get over this hurdle and move forward with a system in place,” said Pitt.

The wages will be retroactive to Jan. 1. The amount of retroactive pay will be $17,000, something that did not sit well with Select Board member Daniel Aho at the April 16 meeting.

“I’m all for raises, I have no problem with that,” Aho said. “I just don’t understand and don’t know how you compensate from January when we are already in April.”

Aho felt that the police raises were a different scenario because he felt they had been better thought out beforehand.

“I didn’t know about these numbers before now,” he said, referring to the proposed wage increases for the other town workers.

The Police Department approached the board last December and negotiated wages to put the officers at competitive levels with similar size departments from around the region. The Department has struggled with officer turnover, losing five officers over the last few years. Higher starting wages in surrounding towns have lured officers away from the Rindge Police Department after the town pays training to make them certified officers.

Before the raises, the town’s low starting salaries for officers made it difficult to hire certified officers. The Police Department would to pay for non-certified recruits to complete 14 weeks of police academy training — a cost of $5,000. These recruits would then move to higher paying jobs in other towns.

DPW head Michael Cloutier felt that his employees will be happy with the raises.

“I believe this wage plan will work as long as the town keeps up with it. My guys do vehicle maintenance, something that the town would have to spend money on otherwise,” he said.

Fire Chief Rick Donovan echoed Cloutier’s feelings.

“My guys go above and beyond what they are asked to do. They never say anything,” said Donovan.

Hamilton and Chair Roberta Oeser voted in favor of the raises, while Aho abstained from voting.

The Select Board also signed a contract with Municipal Resources Inc., a company that provides consulting services to local governments. Alan Gould of MRI will conduct a management study of the department, while Mike French will become interim Police Department manager as the town seeks a new chief.

French will consider whether selectmen should hire Frank Morrill, who recently resigned as police chief, to work as a patrolman. Morrill has offered to serve as a part-time officer for the town to help fill vacant shifts and reduce the department’s overtime costs.

Dylan Fisher can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235, or dfisher@ledgertranscript.com.

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