Many residents had juxtaposed the pay raise issue against the school funding, something Councilor Neale found when he spoke to constituents.
“If perception becomes widespread it is the reality,” he said, noting that he thought that the pay raise was fair, because the council had only passed one pay raise in 16 years. However, he said that he was willing to listen to the townspeople. “The council has come to recognize the widely held perception, and I have withdrawn my support for this measure.”
Councilor Donna McClure, the most vocal opponent of the pay raises, said that the outrage could not be blamed on public opinion alone.
“I don’t see this as a perception problem, I see it as a problem,” she told the council. “We have a spending problem that the council doesn’t recognize and hasn’t come to terms with. The reality is we have a huge budget, we have 40 percent less value in our homes, and we are trying to make it work.”
Councilors on both sides of the issues said that they had been swayed by public opinion, especially as they spoke to residents at Amesbury Days, which began Thursday.
“We all know how ambitiously people have spoken up about this, and how erroneously,” said Councilor Robert Lavoie. “We heard first from what I would call the classic naysayers, and we then heard from the school community. Those comments astound most of us.”
Lavoie said that whether it is objectively true or not, the fact remains that many people now see the pay raises in direct conflict with the school budget.
“A salary increase is not critical enough to go through the experience of tearing the community apart,” he said. “This is where we are.”
Council President Anne Ferguson said that she initiated the pay raises herself, because she felt that they were fair.