NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

April 8, 2014

Selectmen OK raises for town employees, officials

Move comes two weeks after vote to freeze discretionary spending

BY ANGELJEAN CHIARAMIDA
STAFF WRITER

---- — SEABROOK — In spite of freezing all non-essential overtime and discretionary spending in this year’s budget just two weeks ago, the Board of Selectmen yesterday gave raises to part-time town employees and three elected officials.

According to selectmen, for years when the budget passed at the polls it has been a tradition to bump up the salaries of elected town officials, which include selectmen, the treasurer, town clerk and tax collector. Selectmen haven’t taken raises since 2008 and they aren’t doing so this year either, Selectman Aboul Khan said.

However, the remaining elected officials will get raises intended to keep pace with non-elected department heads whose salary increases are governed by longevity-related step increases and the town’s employee union contracts.

Elected officials, part-time employees and a few other employees are not in any of Seabrook’s four employee unions.

The raises for part-time employees will also keep them on par with the salaries of the town’s full-time employees, whose raises are also related to step increases and union contracts, according to Town Manager Bill Manzi.

The raises approved yesterday were based on union contracts previously approved by voters, which gave full-time, unionized town employees 50-cent per hour raises across the board. The 50-cent per hour raise for all the town’s part-time workers does not apply to employees hired seasonally, Manzi added.

Combined, the raises equal $24,798, and the total was included in this year’s operating budget approved on March 11, selectmen said. Of the total, only $2,700 represents the combined total of the three raises going to elected employees.

While the raises are intended to provide equality among town employees, the action came at a meeting immediately following a vote from selectmen two weeks ago when they implemented austerity measures to hold the line on growth.

Khan rejects insurance coverage

In another move that should cut more than $30,000 from the bottom line of this year’s budget, Khan yesterday said he won’t be taking the town’s health insurance benefits. A perk selectmen voted to restore for themselves at their March 24 meeting, health insurance coverage for the three selectmen is controversial because Town Meeting cut the $87,000 line item that funded the cost.

On the same day that they voted to freeze spending, hiring, overtime and the next two budgets, selectmen said they were “reprogramming the budget” and reallocating the $87,121 to pay for the health and dental insurance benefits selectmen have been offered since 1985.

After consulting with town attorney Robert Ciandella, selectmen said they could reinstitute the spending for their insurance coverage by moving money around in the budget because voters approved the budget total and not each line item.

But after two weeks of living with the decision, Khan said that it isn’t worth the fallout it caused.

“I’ve told the town manager I would not be taking the health insurance,” Khan said after yesterday’s meeting. “I’ve already purchased new insurance for my family.”

Khan said his move isn’t intended to force his fellow selectmen to follow in his footsteps.

“If they want to keep the insurance, that’s their decision,” Khan said. “I’m doing this because the situation that had developed around it was affecting my decision-making. I just want to more forward.”