Does a $15,000 Cut Send a Message?

January 9, 2015  

by Len Lathrop

In what was termed a collective bargaining and wrap-up meeting on Monday night seemed to exemplify the budget season as a whole.  Most members say nothing and except for the slap on the hand to the library budget, most questions won’t be answered until March 10 when voters to the polls.  There is a public hearing Thursday, Jan. 8, and then a deliberative session on Saturday, Jan. 31 for the town side of the ballot and on Feb. 7 for the school district.

But not looking forward quite yet, Monday’s meeting started with Hudson Town Administrator Steve Malizia, presenting a negotiated contact currently labeled ‘Warrant P,’ which is a one-year contact for the supervisors’ group of the Hudson town staff totaling 27 employees.  This union includes most mid-management employees and several support positions:  four fire captains, two deputy fire chiefs, fire prevention officer, two police captains three police lieutenants, town planner, two IT specialists, police prosecutor, police records coordinator, highway department sewer manager, town zoning administrator, fire and police executive secretaries, assistant town assessor to name most of the group.

The agreement is for one year and, if approved by the voters in March, it will have added $70,335 to the budget.  Malizia referred to this one-year contact as maintenance to get this group in line with the other unions.  He pointed out agreed-to changes including equalizing the uniform benefits, a 2 percent cost-of-living increase, and changes in the health care insurance and bereavement benefits.

Chairman Shawn Jasper mentioned he could not vote to recommend this contract due to a long-standing issue with earned time at the fire department.  The committee voted 6-5 to recommend this article for the public hearing.

The committee quickly refocused after the vote to revisit the operations budget.  John Drabinowicz brought up the library budget but quickly deferred to Chairman Jasper, who stepped down as committee chairman with Vice Chairman Jonathan Maltz taking the gavel.

Jasper’s motion was to cut $15,000 from the part-time salaries line to send a message to the library trustees and staff about the paying time and a half to anyone who worked on Sunday.  The Rodgers Library will be open on a trial basis from Jan. 18 to May 2015; Randall Brownrigg, Jr., seconded the motion.

Selectman Roger Coutu, acting as the liaison to the budget committee, quickly spoke advising all that he had watched the earlier budget committee meeting and the library trustee meeting.  He commented that he felt bad for Library Director Charlie Matthews as the employees had boxed him in, and if they worked for the private sector, they would have been told to take their lunch pail and get out.  He noted that he knew that Sunday hours were the most requested thing on the recent library survey, but he would support the motion.  He continued to say that he believed the library budget should be a separate warrant article, so that the voters will know what is being spent at the library.

Drabinowicz spoke that he also had watched both meetings and felt that the best plan was when the library was closing some hours during the week to make up for the Sunday hours.  He would be supporting the motion.

Committee member Geoffrey Keegan stated that he had been in retail and other customer service organizations and he had calculated that the library staffing represents 500 man hours per week.  He called most disturbing the fact that no discussion had occurred about the overtime and that the letter from the employees was blackmail.

The vote after all discussion was 11-0 to reduce the line item by $15,000.

Maltz returned the gavel to Jasper and then was recognized for a motion.  His motion has to reduce that allocation for heating oil at the Hills Library building from $9,500 to $6,000 – the motion was seconded by Drabinowicz.  Maltz spoke to his motion stating that he had asked for numbers about consumption, but with the actual being $4,700, he felt a reduction to $6,000 was in order.  Committee James Barnes commented that $6,000 was still more than had been spent in prior years.

The motion passed 9-2.

Bryan Lane, superintendent for the school district, presented the third contract that will be on the school ballot this year.  The AFSCME Local 1906 Bargaining Unit consists of 58 members that includes principals, assistant principals, directors, department heads, school counselors, school psychologists, and library media specialists, it is a three-year agreement: the first year the cost is $146,321, second year $146,252 and the third year $150,523.  This extrapolates to an additional $.05 per thousand on the tax rate per year.

Lane pointed out that through health insurance costs there will be a $150,000 saving to the taxpayer, and with that consideration, the percentage increase is 2.68 per year.  He also commented that the step-scale adjustments would reduce the step differential to 3 percent from 3.5 percent.

While the contact had just been ratified by the school board at 6:30, prior to this 7 p.m. meeting, the complete contract has not available until Wednesday morning.  Chairman Jasper moved to hold off the vote to recommend until Thursday’s public hearing after everyone had the contract.