By Beth David, Editor
The Fairhaven Selectboard met on Monday, 4/3, to finalize (mostly) its recommendations on Town Meeting articles and to vote on the final budget items for FY18 and some leftover issues from FY17.
The big news is that Town Administrator Mark Rees negotiated larger increases for both fire and police aimed at elevating salaries to levels more in keeping with other communities of comparable wealth.
Mr. Rees told the board that after doing some research, he found that the town’s pay rates were lower than comparable communities, by up to 13%. The new contracts will adjust for those shortfalls over the next three years, but not all the way.
The town will be “narrowing the gap going forward,” said Mr. Rees, not closing it completely.
In his presentation, Mr. Rees said that Fairhaven firefighters/paramedics and fire lieutenant/paramedic positions are paid 13% less than comparable communities. Police officers and sergeants are down 7% and 8% respectively. Clerk positions are also lower-paid than comparable communities, with assistant department heads down 3%, the principal clerk position down 7% and senior clerk down 11%.
Other changes to the fire contract include mandatory random drug and alcohol testing, two daytime firefighters for improved ambulance coverage, and getting a seven-year commitment from the training officer.
In a follow-up interview, Mr. Rees said that the department has been losing training officers to other shifts at a high rate, and the town loses because it has to keep paying training costs.
The fire contract also requires firefighters who leave before seven years to pay back training and equipment costs. The new contract also includes an education incentive, similar to police, paying more for more education.
Mr. Rees said the increases in salary will help the department retain employees, which should save in training costs. Several other changes in the contract should also help reduce overtime, also saving the town money.
The increases will start retroactively with FY17, which ends on 6/30/17. The first year will give a 3% increase (FY17), then 4.25% in FY18 and 3% in FY19. Total costs to the town will be $44,960 for FY17, $64,058 for FY18, and $49,502 for FY19. The three year contract will then be renegotiated.
Current base pay for firefighter/ paramedics is $56,589; for lieutenant-paramedic, $63,851. For police, base pay is $53,289 for patrol officers, $62,878 for sergeant. On the clerical side, assistant department head base pay is $42,076, principal clerk is $36,558, and senior clerk is $33,434.
On the police side, the increases will be: 3% for FY17, 3.5% for FY18 and 2.5% for FY19.
For the clerical workers, increases will be 3% for FY17, between 3% and 1.5% depending on position for FY18, and between 2.5% and 1% for FY19.
Mr. Rees thanked the three unions (Fire, Police and Clerical) for being willing to negotiate. He said they did have some contentious issues.
“I appreciate everybody coming to the table,” said Mr. Rees.
He also said he wanted to clear up a misconception, noting that the town did not have the new labor counsel at all the meetings. The labor attorney was available for consultation only.
Fire Chief Timothy Francis said it was an “excellent contract negotiation” and the most progress they have made in his 19 years. He said it brought a lot of “good faith” into both the union side and the management side.
“It was a lot less contentious, a lot more revealing, and I just think it went a lot smoother,” said Chief Francis.
This was the first contract negotiated by the town administrator since the town adopted the TA form of government.
The board also voted on the remainder of items in the budget that had been held over, mostly to get more information. They also approved the changes in the FY17 budget required to pay for the new labor union contracts.
Mr. Rees said he found most of the extra money for the FY17 budget in the temporary loan account ($36,919), which is money set aside for borrowing. Since the town did not borrow money in FY17, there was extra money in the account. Other amounts came from some shifting around and adjustments made as final numbers came in for different departments. Revenue projections have not changed.
Also on Monday, the board approved a previously held article for the Sewer Enterprise Capital Plan, which includes a sewer department truck. Selectboard member Daniel Freitas had asked to hold off on that item until he knew what kind of vehicle it was, saying $73,000 was a hefty price tag for a simple truck.
The vehicle is a box truck with an hydraulic lift that will be used to transport other vehicles and equipment to work sites.
The board did not vote on Article 49, which creates a Human Resources Director position. The act establishing the town administrator form of government for Fairhaven called for the creation of personnel policies and a staff position to administer them.
The question is whether or not the public works department, which is still managed by the Board of Public Works, will be part of the personnel/ human resources director’s responsibilities. Mr. Rees has met with the BPW to advocate for the change, saying it will allow the whole town to have uniform and equitable personnel policies. The BPW, however, is reluctant to give up its power and has voted against it (see story, page 17).
Mr. Rees said he is hoping to meet with the BPW again.
“I still think it’s a very critical position,” he said, adding that it will have everyone work under the same human resources rules, same bookkeeping and other administrative functions.
The board will vote on that article, and a few others, at its next meeting.
The board also voted to support a moratorium on the sale of recreational marijuana. Voters passed a law legalizing recreational marijuana in Massachusetts by ballot referendum last November. Since then, the state legislature has been working to add regulations, delays, and otherwise gut the measure. The moratorium gives the town time to wait for the state regulations to be finalized, and allows the Planning Board to craft a by-law governing so-called “pot shops.”
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