Town hands out merit raises (7/16/09)

Pay hikes total 5 percent for some

July 16, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Town Manager Rick McGuire doled out small merit raises to non-unionized employees last week, supplementing an across-the-board pay hike approved by the Selectboard.

The town had budgeted $39,000 for merit raises and some type of pay adjustments. Only about a quarter of that money — $10,943 — was spent on merit raises for 31 non-union employees.

The largest merit increase was 2 percent, McGuire said. Scaled-back raises are part of an austerity effort by the town, which is facing declining revenue amid a deep recession.

“No department heads received any merit increases this year even though all did excellent work this past year,” McGuire wrote in an e-mail. “This was done as a cost-savings measure looking to fiscal year 2011, when we expect the budget to experience deeper cuts and possible reductions in service.”

All non-union employees, however, did receive a 3 percent cost-of-living raise. Selectboard members discussed those pay hikes during a June 29 closed-door meeting.

Board members told the Observer that they felt compelled to give the raises so that pay for non-union employees keeps pace with the town’s unionized police officers and firefighters. Those multi-year contracts each call for 3 percent annual raises.

The Selectboard did not discuss merit raises. Those increases were left to McGuire’s discretion, although they were funded through the municipal budget approved by the board.

The raises come amid an economic meltdown that has resulted in layoffs, pay cuts or wage freezes for many private-sector employees. The latest statistics from the U.S. Labor Department show that weekly wages dropped by $2, the lowest level in a year.

McGuire noted that raises for government employees tend to be smaller then those enjoyed by private employees during boom times. He also emphasized that all the pay increases were part of a budget that kept spending and property taxes at the previous fiscal year’s level.

The merit raises were awarded based on the performance of each employee, McGuire said, using recommendations from department heads.

“But that’s just one piece of the puzzle,” he said. “We also look at how the pay compared to what other positions pay both in this community and other communities.”

Sometimes pay is adjusted upward based on evolving job duties, McGuire said. None of those types of raises, however, were handed out this year.

As for McGuire, his four-year contract signed in February 2007 calls for annual pay increases equal to cost-of-living raises given to other employees.

The contract originally set his salary at $78,500. Since then, his pay has increased to $85,570.