Rethinking town salaries and wages

Thu, 11/11/2021 - 2:30pm
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“The town employees are on line at the food bank. That’s your responsibility. You can change that,” Library Director Kristin Baumann told the New Shoreham Town Council on November 3. The council met in a work session to discuss the process used by the town to prepare the annual budget, and it became a meeting described by Council Member Mark Emmanuelle as “short on attendance, but long on good information.”

Council Member Keith Stover had brought up the disparity in pay amongst town employees, pointing out that with the recent hiring of the town manager and police chief, a financial gulf was widening between new town employees and long-term town employees.
“We’ve learned what the market is for capable, experienced public officials,” Stover said. “Is there a plan to sufficiently value other leadership positions and reflect that in their compensation?” Stover went on to question if the town was paying dispatchers enough, given what the town pays the chief, and asked if the town was paying the clerks enough. “If we spend money on new people, and not on people that have been committed here a long time, then we have a friction point.”
“There is a division,” Baumann said. “[The employees] feel this.” She mentioned that the town manager and newly hired police chief make significantly more than some other town employees, and they also received full salaries during the pandemic while many employees had their pay reduced or paused to balance the budget. The town’s budget lists the town manager wages at $132,080 and the police chief wages at $95,000. Currently, the chief serves in a dual role as Director of Public Works, budgeted for $105,000. By comparison, the Harbormaster is budgeted at $57,158, Recreation Department Director is budgeted at $61, 651, and the town clerk is $76,877.

Finance Director Amy Land confirmed that part of the way the town covered pandemic shortfalls in revenue was through cutting salaries of some employees.
“They lost three months (of salary) for last year,” Baumann said.

Overall, New Shoreham showed a loss of revenue of $425,000 due to the pandemic in 2020. The federal and state governments have just released funds for the America Rescue Act, and New Shoreham is to receive $302,198. This did not sit well with the council, as they realized it is significantly less than what other towns received.
“It’s so disgusting. It is unbelievable. The second lowest town, Little Compton, gets one million. This is ridiculous,” Second Warden Sven Risom said. “We get 0.016 percent. This is almost an insult. It’s infuriating.” Overall, the state of Rhode Island received $1.8 billion in federal aid.

Emmanuelle asked what the reasons were for the $425,000 loss in 2020. Land explained that most of the losses were in hotel and meal tax, since everything was shut down for several months in 2020. Land also explained that there would be additional federal dollars, although the guidelines for apportioning those monies around the state had not been set yet.
Risom suggested the money should go “to those that were hurt or impacted. I think we should focus on those that were most hurt.”

Chris Warfel spoke from the audience and suggested using the money for social programs, and for making the island more affordable, mentioning the growing divide between the “have’s and the have not’s” as the island economy changes. “The island is being lost to speculators. There are good brains out here and processes that we haven’t tried. This is the time to do it.”